For nearly 50 years, the Clean Water Act has helped safeguard America’s rivers, lakes, and other interconnected landscapes. These resources provide wildlife habitat, swimming and fishing opportunities, and drinking water for millions of Americans.
But now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers have finalized a rule to remove critical protections for more than half of the country’s wetlands and hundreds of thousands of streams.
What’s at Stake
The repeal focuses on the 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule (WOTUS), which defined wetlands and waterways protected nationwide under the Clean Water Act, and was developed following extensive scientific and public input.
Repealing WOTUS means removing protections from many wetlands, as well as streams that flow in response to rain or snowfall – all of which can significantly impact the health of larger water bodies by filtering out pollutants.
Denying these protections blatantly ignores the science that went into WOTUS in the first place, which showed that in order to protect our nation’s rivers and streams, smaller bodies of water and tributaries must be protected as well. Wetlands are also among our most biologically productive ecosystems, and act as both carbon sinks and floodwater absorbers – two more major reasons to strengthen, not weaken, their protections as we face the climate crisis.
We’re Fighting Back
Mass Audubon has joined the Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and other partners in filing a lawsuit in federal court that challenges the Trump administration’s rollbacks. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and 18 other states are also filing their own lawsuit.
Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has protected wetlands and streams across the United States. Now it’s our turn to protect it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our concept of business-as-usual upside down. But when it comes to environmental safeguards, business-as-usual wasn’t good enough to begin with. The COVID crisis has only further brought to light the need to keep pushing for stronger policies to protect our air and water, our climate, and our most vulnerable populations.
As we celebrate Earth Week in the midst of communities coping with the far-reaching impacts of this pandemic, it’s the perfect time to reassess how stronger environmental policies also mean stronger public health policies.
Our Shared Public Health
The current pandemic has served as an important reminder of our shared responsibility to protect public health, and it’s been inspiring to see communities coming together to support and protect each other. But once the pandemic ends, there are still pressing public health issues that need our attention, like air and water pollution. More than 70,000 people in the US are estimated to die from air pollution impacts annually. Communities in areas with higher air pollution also face a higher risk from COVID-19.
Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has recently taken measures that will worsen pollution. By rolling back enforcement of environmental regulations during the pandemic, they are essentially ceasing to hold companies accountable for pollution until further notice. Mass Audubon and other environmental groups have been speaking out against this decision.
Previously-announced rollbacks on federal clean car standards were also recently finalized. Fortunately, there is still a chance to reverse this decision in court, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is helping lead the charge.
This all comes at a time when we need to be buckling down on stronger pollution enforcement policies, not weakening them. The year 2020 is also when countries participating in the Paris Climate Agreement will be updating their targets. While the US is set to withdraw from the Agreement in November, it’s more important than ever for states like Massachusetts, along with communities, businesses, faith groups, and health organizations, to demonstrate bold commitments to our greenhouse gas reduction goals.
An Opportunity to Do Better
Despite these rollbacks, we have an opportunity here to reassess our priorities. What if we truly viewed pollution and the climate crisis as the wide-reaching public health issues they are? What if once we recover from this pandemic, we pivot toward addressing those urgent issues by cutting emissions and supporting our most impacted communities?
Here are a few ways you can help us get started:
Contact the EPAto tell them you oppose the recent environmental rollbacks. Let them know that our collective response to the COVID-19 crisis shouldn’t come at the expense of other public health and climate protection measures.
Share student climate stories. As a Youth Climate Strike partner, we’re helping Boston event organizers gather students’ stories on how the climate crisis has impacted them – particularly those from marginalized and frontline communities. A good opportunity if you’re home with kids, are a student yourself, or just want to spread the word!
Make the switch. By choosing to add more renewable energy into your electricity supply, you can add more clean power – and remove fossil fuel use – from the grid. It only takes a few minutes! Live in a city or town that participates in Community Choice Aggregation? See if there’s an option to “opt up” to cleaner power for your home.
Despite living in challenging times, we’ve banded together worldwide to take action and protect our most vulnerable from the threat of COVID-19. This Earth Day, let’s pledge to carry that action forward to protect the biggest public health resource for our global community – a healthy planet.
This week, President Trump signed an executive order requiring that for every new federal regulation implemented, two must be rescinded. According to President Trump, “This will be the biggest such act that our country has ever seen.” Mass Audubon will be on the lookout for the repeal of environmental standards necessary for protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we live, work, and play on.
Bald eagles are a species that have benefited greatly from environmental regulations. They are no longer an endangered species in the US thanks to the banning of the pesticide DDT and habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act. Photo credit: USFWS
In more federal news, the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to vote on Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, amid complaints from many senators that his answers to their questions were inadequate. Please keep up with your phone calls to Senators Warren and Markey opposing the nomination, and encourage your friends in other states to do the same with their senators!
We are also paying attention to Congress’ damaging decision with regard to federal land management. Earlier this month, Congress revised its House budget rules to more easily allow federal lands to essentially be given away. By adding language to devalue these lands, US Representatives have made it easier to transfer control of more than 640 million acres, including national parks and wildlife refuges to states.
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service
We’ve written about issues like this before, most recently in regard to control of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham. When management of federal land changes hands to state control, problematic changes can ensue, from limited public access to natural resource exploitation and energy drilling. There is also the added challenge of state agencies and governments being able to pay for all the maintenance required for the land. Mass Audubon is concerned about these legislative changes, and will continue to closely follow the issue and let you know when the time to act will be.
Mass Audubon is one of 173 environmental, health, and public interest groups that signed and sent a letter to the Senate’s Environmental and Public Works committee opposing the nomination of Scott Pruitt to Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scott Pruitt has actively worked against the mission of the EPA, and his nomination as its leader should be rejected by the Senate. Read the full letter here.
We also joined with other Massachusetts-based organizations to inform our US Senators that we are opposed to Pruitt’s confirmation, and urged our members to call Senators Warren and Markey to voice their own opposition. You can learn how to take action and spread the word here.
Mass Audubon urges you to call Senators Elizabeth Warren (202-224-4543) and Ed Markey (202-224-2742) today and ask them to reject Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). President-elect Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, and it is the Senate’s job to decide whether or not to confirm him. Mr. Pruitt is a known climate science skeptic, an oil & gas industry insider, and a leading force in federal lawsuits over the implementation of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Please call your Senators, encouraging them to stand up for the environment and public health.
As your constituent, I wanted to let you know that I am very concerned about President-elect Trump’s choice of Scott Pruitt, who would be charged with implementing the EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt has filed multiple lawsuits against the EPA, actively seeking to undermine air and water quality, and dismissing the science of climate change.
I urge you to reject the nomination of Mr. Pruitt, or anyone like him who rejects sound science and the clear, positive benefits of laws like the Clean Air Act. For over 30 years the Clean Air Act has reduced acid rain that once had enormous impacts on forests and waters, reduced haze that clouds views of natural treasures that drive tourism economies, and reduced ozone that can damage our lungs.
As you consider Mr. Pruitt and other nominees for positions in our natural resource protection agencies, please reject those who ignore the overwhelming evidence of science and seek to roll back our bedrock environmental and public health laws.
It is crucial that we forge a path forward based on the values that Americans have long held dear, like clear air and clean water for this and future generations.