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Emily Driehaus | Science Communication Intern
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will revise regulations from the Trump administration that limit protections for certain bodies of water. The rule, commonly referred to as WOTUS, has been amended several times over various years.
The EPA and the Army said in a statement that the rule “is leading to significant environmental degradation.” Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jaime Pinkham also said that current regulations established under the Trump administration have led to a drop of 25 percentage points in decisions that would give bodies of water protections under the Clean Water Act.
The Navigable Waters Protection Rule was established on April 21, 2020 after the Trump administration repealed an Obama-era rule that recognized smaller bodies of water as “waters of the United States” and gave them protections if they contributed to a larger water source. Protecting these small water sources was meant to prevent pollution from flowing into larger bodies of water, including drinking water resources.
The Trump administration’s rule updated the definition of “waters of the United States” to exclude waters such as wetlands and streams from receiving protections under the Clean Water Act.
The exclusion of certain bodies of water under the Navigable Waters Protection Rule is most significant in arid states like Arizona and New Mexico. Of the 1,500 streams in these two states, almost every one is excluded from protections.
According to The Hill, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that the agency will not “return verbatim” to the regulations from the Obama administration in a recent congressional hearing.
A statement released by the EPA said that the new regulations will be guided by the Clean Water Act, the effects of climate change on water resources, the practicality of implementation, and input from the agricultural community, tribal and local governments, environmental groups, and communities with concerns about environmental justice.
We are very encouraged by the Biden administration and EPA’s step toward fixing water regulations. Water pollution can expose the public to harmful chemicals and substances through their drinking water, and we hope the new revisions to the Navigable Waters Protection Rule will recognize the importance of small bodies of water to the environment and our drinking water systems and protect them from pollution.Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
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New Legislation Aims to Tackle Coal Ash Pollution
Emma Johnson | Scientific Contributor
After a drainage pipe burst at a Duke Energy coal ash containment basin in North Carolina in 2014, the nearby Dan River turned black. 39,000 tons of coal ash – the waste created in the process of burning coal to make electricity – poured into the river for a week, coating the banks in sludge and infusing the water with toxic pollutants like arsenic, iron, and lead. The river was a source of drinking water for communities in North Carolina and Virginia, who were worried about the effect of the spill on their health. Duke was still working on cleanup and restoration projects five years after.
Coal ash spills remain a worry today as coal power plants remain in operation around the country. To begin rectifying this enormous problem, Rep. Steve Cohen (D) from Tennessee introduced a bill to the U.S. House of Representatives on April 8 to “amend the Solid Waste Disposal Act to ensure the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals.”
The bill would put back coal ash protections that the Trump administration had removed. Some of these include requiring power plants to pay for cleanup costs, prohibiting unlined waste ponds, and requiring regulatory oversight of coal ash facilities. The bill would also prevent coal ash ponds from being located near groundwater and increase public participation and protection for disadvantaged communities.
A 2019 study from the Environmental Integrity Project listed ten sites with the worst coal ash-contaminated groundwater, which spanned nine states. Using public industry data, the study found that the coal ash at 242 of 265 power plants examined contained unsafe levels of one or more toxic pollutants. In addition, more than 95% of coal ash storage ponds are unlined and 59% are built either beneath the water table or within 5 feet of it.
Coal ash also disproportionately affects poor communities and communities of color. 70% of coal ash ponds are located in low-income communities and more then 200 are known to have contaminated waterways, according to Appalachian Voices. People who live near these ponds can have elevated risks of cancer, lung and heart problems, and other serious health concerns.
In a statement about the bill, Cohen remarked on the danger that these spills pose, saying: “The measure I am introducing strengthens protections outlined in the 2015 Coal Ash Rule and protects communities by mandating safer and faster disposal of this dangerous waste product of electricity production.”
Cohen’s bill is waiting to be heard by the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change and must make it through both the House and the Senate before it goes to the President’s desk for a signature and turned into law.
For advocates working to clean up coal ash around the country, this bill represents a big step in the right direction for addressing this long-standing pollutant. Christine Santillana, Legislative Counsel at Earthjustice, said, “This legislation aims to correct decades of coal ash mismanagement that has left communities around the country exposed to the toxic chemicals in our waterways.”Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
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