As protections on wetlands are weakened, how will that play out here on the Eastern Shore?
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is expected to unveil a plan that would weaken federal clean water rules designed to protect millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams nationwide from pesticide runoff and other pollutants.
The clean water rollback is the latest in a series of actions by the Trump administration to weaken or undo major environmental rules, including proposals to weaken regulations on planet-warming emissions from cars,power plants and oil and gas drilling rigs, a series of moves designed to speed new drilling in the vast Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and efforts to weaken protections under the Endangered Species Act. This week in Katowice, Poland, at an annual United Nations conference on mitigating global warming, Trump administration officials held an event touting the benefits of fossil fuels.
Environmentalists say the proposal represents a historic assault on wetlands regulation. The proposed new rule would chip away at safeguards put in place a quarter century ago, during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, who implemented a policy designed to ensure that no wetlands lost federal protection.
President Trump is expected to defend his plan as ending a federal land grab that impinged on the rights of farmers, rural landowners and real estate developers to use their property as they see fit.
Rules in place now restrict farmers from using land near streams and wetlands were restricted from doing certain kinds of plowing and planting certain crops, and would have been required to apply for permits from the Environmental Protection Agency in order to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers that could have run off into those water bodies. Under the new Trump plan, which lifts federal protections from many of those streams and wetlands, those requirements will also be lifted.
The new Trump water rule will retain federal protections for those larger bodies of water, the rivers that drain into them, and wetlands that are directly adjacent to those bodies of water.
But it will strip away protections of so-called “ephemeral” streams, in which water runs only during or after rainfalls, and of wetlands that are not adjacent to major bodies of water, or connected to such bodies of water by a surface channel of water.
The wetland protection policies put in place by the first President Bush, an avid fisherman, followed on his own campaign pledge to save wetlands, saying, “all wetlands, no matter how small, should be preserved,” and proposing a “no net loss” policy. That initial policy was later weakened by Mr. Bush’s own E.P.A., but environmentalists have credited him for elevating the issue.
Fifteen years later, the second President Bush gave regulatory teeth to his father’s proposal, implementing an E.P.A. rule requiring stronger wetlands protection that his father had once envisioned.