Pruitt’s EPA is attempting to roll back no less than the Clean Water Act.
The effort is aimed at removing federal Clean Water Act protection from millions of miles of streams and wetlands, including more than 80% of the waters in California and the arid West. The administration last month suspended for two years the new guidelines protecting those waters as it scrambles to draft a replacement rule that substantially narrows the reach of the act.
Not even James Watt under Reagan had such an expansive program of rollbacks in mind. This is astonishing and infuriating. Pruitt’s agency has fired scientists, demolished the panels they worked on, demanded whole sections of factual information be deleted from studies used in rulemaking, including sections showing the economic benefits to major stakeholders as a result. Look at this:
Longtime EPA staffers were stunned when political appointees at the agency last year directed them to write in a key report that protecting wetlands, intermittent streams and vernal pools would not bring any economic benefit to anyone. A detailed EPA analysis had already found that up to $500 million in benefits would be reaped by a range of interests, including commercial fisheries, recreational outfitters and drinking water utilities.
“We were told to just drop the benefits,” said Betsy Southerland, who resigned her post as director of science and technology at the EPA Office of Water in August. “They told us verbally, so they wouldn’t have a written record of it.” An EPA spokesman downplayed the importance of the study, saying it was not required to rewrite the water rule.
Yet Pruitt’s allies in Congress are clearly concerned the effort to unravel the Obama rule will falter. They are advancing a measure that would exempt the rollback from many of the public disclosure and other rules that apply to major regulatory changes.
Charming. Don’t you love the Republican party?
The only good thing about this is that there are many many lawsuits and FOIA requests in the pipeline. California’s Attorney General is hopeful, saying Pruitt’s people have cut so many corners and are tainted by so many conflicts that very few of these actions will stand up in court. I hope he’s right, but bear in mind that Trump has been busily appointing federal judges who are way off the normal scale of political ideology. Some of these cases are eventually going to wind up in front of right-wingers on the bench.