As our nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve never been more aware of the importance of healthy air to breathe and clean water to wash our hands. And yet our clean air and water are under threat even now, when we need them the most.
Just this week, federal rules protecting rivers and streams were significantly weakened, threatening thousands of miles of waterways and millions of acres of wetlands across the West.
- A new “waters of the United States” definition will dramatically narrow which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act. The definition will hit the arid West particularly hard, because it ends protections for rivers and streams that flow after rain or as snow melts, as well as most wetlands. These “ephemeral” streams are often tributaries to rivers that provide drinking water and irrigation for millions of people across the region.
This federal move comes on the heels of other Trump administration rollbacks on rules protecting air quality and direction allowing refineries, oil and gas operations, and others to avoid pollution enforcement.
- The EPA is rolling back rules that since 2015 have protected communities from dangerous coal ash disposal. The new rule will allow utilities to keep dumping enormous quantities of toxic ash into unlined leaking and structurally unsound coal ash ponds, as well ponds located in the groundwater, floodplains and unstable areas.
- The Trump administration has proposed an updated rule to lessen fuel-economy standards set under President Obama. This move would harm air quality at a time when more than ever before we need to keep our air and lungs healthy.
- Last week, the Trump administration decided not to tighten regulation of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), a dangerous air pollutant. PM2.5 contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths each year, and the EPA’s own draft scientific assessment of the rule found that the current annual standard is associated with 45,000 premature deaths annually.
These careless rollbacks threaten the health and well-being of communities across the West. But Western states are stepping up to lead where the federal government won’t, and are taking action to tackle climate change, protect our health, and safeguard our environment. As the federal government rolls back crucial environmental protections, it’s clear that state and local leadership is more important than ever.