Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began a 30 day comment period on its plans to repeal the Clean Water Rule. Finalized by the Obama Administration in May of 2015, the rule seeks to protect the small streams and wetlands that feed into the drinking water of 117 million Americans. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 had left more than half of our nation’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands vulnerable to pollution. Small streams and wetlands feed major bodies of water and estuaries with biologically significant marine ecosystems including Pudget Sound, the Mississippi River, Chesapeake Bay, and the Delaware River Watershed, which is fed by streams in New York’s Catskill Mountains. After over a decade of confusion, the Clean Water Rule was intended to provide much-needed clarity to the landmark Clean Water Act.
The process of finalizing the Clean Water Rule took years of planning, 400 stakeholder meetings, and more than a million public comments. It safeguards our water and restores protections to the drinking water sources for 1 in 3 Americans. This includes the drinking water for 56% of New York residents.
If Congress blocks the Clean Water Rule, at least 55% of New York’s stream miles and millions of acres of wetlands nationwide will again be at risk from pollution and destruction from development, oil and gas production, and other industrial activities. Thousands of acres of wetlands that provide flood protection, recharge groundwater supplies, filter pollution, and provide essential wildlife habitat are safeguarded by the rule, including 5,730 miles of streams in New York.
The Trump Administration is arguing that repealing the rule will provide a net economic benefit. An army of scientists and economists have responded by saying their analysis is sloppy and the opposite is actually true. One agricultural economist even called it the worst regulatory analysis he has ever seen, relying on outdated data and failing to account for the rule’s benefits.
Blocking this rule would imperil drinking water sources, as well as the small businesses and communities that rely on clean water. The EPA estimates that the rule will provide at least $339 million and up to $572 million annually in benefits to the public, including reducing flooding, filtering pollution, providing wildlife habitat, supporting hunting and fishing, and recharging groundwater. In addition to benefits to drinking water, wildlife and resiliency from extreme weather, the Clean Water Rule supports New York’s vibrant recreational industry, which includes $9.2 billion in economic activity, including $2 billion on fishing, and touching more than 5.5 million people. New York’s thriving brewing industry also relies on clean water. New York breweries contribute $2.2 billion to our economy every year and support more than 20,800 jobs.
Americans are rightly concerned about their water with crises from Flint Michigan to issues with PFOA and other contaminants closer to home. Protecting clean water is popular on both sides of the aisle, and the Clean Water Rule makes both economic and legal sense. As strong advocacy efforts and media attention have led other unpopular initiatives to fail in recent weeks, it is incredibly important that this issue does not fly under the radar.