HARRISBURG, Pa. – Monday will be the last day of the public comment period on proposed changes to the Clean Water Act that environmentalists say will put access to clean water at risk.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposal would redefine which waters in the United States come under the act’s protection. Critics of the proposal say the new definition ignores the basic, scientific fact that water flows downhill.
Abby Jones, Northeast Pennsylvania staff attorney with PennFuture, notes that clean water – including drinking water – begins at the source.
“If you’re removing protections from the headwater streams and if you remove protections from wetlands that help filter a lot of the pollutants out from downstream waters, then you’re going to have some kind of impact on the ability to get cleaner water out of the rivers,” says Jones.
The administration claims that the rule changes would provide certainty to farmers and landowners so the economy can continue to expand while waters are protected.
But according to Jan Goldman-Carter, senior director of wetlands and water resources at the National Wildlife Federation, the proposal would strip protections from smaller streams and from many wetlands that serve as filters for sediment, agricultural runoff and other pollutants.
“It actually could remove almost half of the stream miles in the lower 48 from Clean Water Act protections, and also about half of the wetlands that remain in the lower 48,” says Goldman-Carter.
She believes that with the proposed changes, it would not be possible to protect drinking water and wildlife habitat.
Jones notes that Pennsylvania has the Clean Streams Law, which has protections that are at least as strong as the current Clean Water Act.
“But that doesn’t negate the fact that we need strong federal Clean Water Act protections to ensure that Pennsylvania is on the right track and that there is no rollback of water protections in Pennsylvania,” says Jones.
She adds that public comments send a powerful message that Americans want the EPA to do its job and protect clean water for everyone.