Trump Administration Rolls Back Clean Water Protections

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The Trump administration on Thursday announced the repeal of a major Obama-era clean water regulation that had placed limits on polluting chemicals that could be used near streams, wetlands and other bodies of water.

The rollback of the 2015 measure, known as the Waters of the United States rule, adds to a lengthy list of environmental rules that the administration has worked to weaken or undo over the past two and a half years.

Those efforts have focused heavily on eliminating restrictions on fossil fuel pollution, including coal-fired power plants, automobile tailpipes and methane emissions, but have also touched on asbestos and chemical hazards like pesticides.

An immediate effect of the clean water repeal is that polluters will no longer need a permit to discharge potentially harmful substances into many streams and wetlands. But the measure, which is expected to take effect in a matter of weeks, has implications far beyond the pollution that will now be allowed to flow freely into waterways.

The Obama administration implemented the rule in response to a Supreme Court decision that opened the door to a more expansive legal definition of “waters of the United States” under the 1972 Clean Water Act. With Thursday’s announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to drastically narrow that definition, a move that critics fear could be difficult for future administrations to undo because the ideological balance of the Supreme Court has shifted to the right.

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