A Bill to Block the Dirty Water Rule

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

In typical cynical fashion, the Trump administration seeks to undo water protections at the behest of the oil and gas industries. Rep. Peter DeFazio has introduced his Clean Water for All Acf to stop this assault on the nation's water resources.

The Trump administration demonstrates over and over that nature is up for exploitation. Water is no exception. Back in April, the Trump administration published the final rule to rollback water protections in the U.S. Called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule but dubbed the Dirty Water Rule by critics, the rule reinterprets the Clean Water Act protections with bipartisan support. It removes federal protections for up to 60 percent of stream miles in the lower 48 states that do not flow year-round (nearly two million stream miles) and 110 million acres of wetlands.

In May, Rep. Peter DeFazio, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, introduced the Clean Water for All Act, which prohibits the implementation of the Dirty Water Rule. The bill also requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a new regulation to protect rivers, streams, and wetlands.

The purpose of the bill is to “reaffirm Congress’ commitment to...the Clean Water Act.” Enacted in 1972, the Clean Water Act aims to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” Wetlands have been protected since 1986 under the Clean Water Act.

By removing critical protections at the behest of industry, Trump’s Dirty Water Rule will make streams and waterways more vulnerable to pollution, which is devastating for the 117 million Americans who rely on these waterways for drinking water,” said Rep. DeFazio. “That’s why I’ve introduced the Clean Water for All Act, legislation to block the Dirty Water Rule from taking effect.”

“We’re heartened to see Congressional leaders step in to reverse the Trump Administration’s clean water rollbacks,” said Sierra Club Deputy Legislative Director Dalal Aboulhosn. 

The group that benefits the most from rolling back water protections

The group that benefits the most from rolling back water protections under the Clean Water Act is the oil and gas industry. Trade associations representing the industry have lobbied for years for protections to be weakened to allow more discharge of oil and gas wastewater, also known as produced water. A report by Clean Water Action found that the EPA and states lack the information needed to ensure the safety of produced water discharged. Permits for produced water discharge are not easy to find and difficult to understand. Federal regulation has loopholes allowing produced water to be dumped into streams.

As the top oil and gas producer in the world, the U.S. has doubled domestic oil and gas production since 2010, resulting in increased industrial water use and produced water. Clean Water Action looked at the states that would lose protection the most when the Trump administration proposed the Dirty Water Rule in 2019. New Mexico would lose protection for 66 percent of the total amount of streams in the state categorized as ephemeral. California would lose protection for 34 percent of the state’s total streams. Texas and Colorado would lose protection for 34 percent of both states’ streams while Wyoming would lose protection for 12 percent of its streams.

What you can do

There is something you can do to take action to support our nation’s waterways. Sign the petition by Clean Water Action which urges U.S. senators to pass a companion bill in the Senate. 

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