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Trump Strips Environmental Protections for Wetlands and Streams

Jason Saul
Many Louisiana wetlands are no longer protected by federal environment regulations.

The Trump administration is rolling back environmental protections for wetlands and streams as outlined by the Water of the United States rule. The Environmental Protection Agency passed the rule under President Obama to enforce the Clean Water Act and shield more waterways from pollution.

Reporter Betsy Shepherd speaks with environmental law professor, Robert Verchick, about the local impacts of Trump’s new EPA standards. Verchick heads the liberal think tank Center for Progressive Reform.

WWNO: Can you explain the Water of the United States or WOTUS rule and detail exactly what it did for Louisiana waterways and coastal areas?

Robert Verchick: The Clean Water Act is a federal statute that goes back to 1972 that requires permits for putting pollution into water or filling in wetlands. In 2015, the Obama Administration issued a rule attempting to show what the jurisdiction actually was, and it protected around 60 percent of all of the waters of the United States. The Trump Administration’s new rule strips away the protection from many of the water systems that were protected under the Obama Administration, and those include many kinds of wetlands and also streams that run intermittently.

WWNO: How will Trump’s rollback of Obama’s water protections affect Louisiana?

Verchick: I think there are winners and losers in this. The winners obviously are members of the oil and gas industry and developers because in the oil and gas industry there’s a lot of dumping of toxic byproducts, and a lot of that goes into areas that might have previously been considered protected wetlands or protected streams. And so now there will no longer be a need for federal permits. So I think the oil and gas industry will be very happy about that. The losers in Louisiana will be the people who are relying on water for drinking and for fishing. The health of the marsh, the health of the wetlands, the health of the drinking water in the state of Louisiana, all of those things have suddenly become much harder to protect.

WWNO: The American Farm Bureau is hailing Trump’s new rule for easing land-use restrictions on farmers. Can you talk about how farm run-off impacts the Mississippi and other Louisiana waterways?

Verchick: The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which deprives the area of oxygen so that fish and shellfish can’t live there is caused by fertilizers from farming all the way up to the headwaters of the Mississippi. What we have to understand is that two-thirds of the continental United States is the watershed of the Mississippi River. To the extent that they’re going to be able to do that more, you’re going to have more industrial toxins and other things flowing into the Mississippi and ending up at our doorsteps. It affects our fisheries. It affects our recreation. It affects our way of life. And we pay in terms of public health.

WWNO: What’s next for Louisiana wetlands and streams that are no longer protected by federal laws?

Verchick: The first avenue of recourse is the lawsuits to actually challenge this. One of the vulnerabilities of this rule is that Trump’s own scientific advisory boards have said in writing that the agencies neglected to look at the established science and follow it. And that’s going to be a big vulnerability in the courts going forward with this rule. Then it’s going to be up to the state of Louisiana to implement its own protections for these sensitive waters, which is why many states actually want these rules in place. They would prefer for the federal government to do this work than to have to raise taxes and pay for this kind of pollution control at the state level.

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