The Associated Press reported on December 30, 2021, that the Biden administration had reversed Trump-era changes to water regulations, which themselves were changes to Obama regulations and other previous administrations. This is getting to be like a tennis match. “Advantage Downstream.”
The EPA regulations have changed numerous times over the years. Enforcement changes, too.
The problem: Changes affect both water quality downstream and land development upstream. That’s why the rules change so often. Competing interests! Public health and safety vs. economic expansion.
Rivers Before the EPA and Clean Water Act
About two thirds of Americans alive today had not yet been born when Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. So they have no memory of the event that helped give birth to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970.
Shortly after its founding, the EPA dispatched photographers all around the country to document environmental abuses.
The photographers took about 81,000 images, more than 20,000 of which were archived. At least 15,000 have been digitized by the National Archives. They form a time capsule showing the way things were.
Warning: These images are disturbing…for people on both sides of the political net.
Why the Changes This Time?
The AP article by Jim Salter and Michael Phillis says, “The Trump-era rule, finalized in 2020, was long sought by builders, oil and gas developers, farmers and others who complained about federal overreach that they said stretched into gullies, creeks and ravines on farmland and other private property.”
However, the writers continued, “…the Trump rule allowed businesses to dump pollutants into unprotected waterways and fill in some wetlands, threatening public water supplies downstream and harming wildlife and habitat.”
They quoted Kelly Moser, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Clean Water Defense Initiative. She said, “Today, the Biden administration restored needed clean water protections so that our nation’s waters are guarded against pollution for fishing, swimming, and as sources of drinking water.”
At Issue: Definition of “Waters of the U.S.”
Meanwhile, courts at various levels are still pondering the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” At issue: How far up in the branching structure of a river may the government enforce regulations? As far as it’s navigable? One level up from that? Two? Three? Infinitely? And do the rules apply to desert areas the same way they do to subtropical areas like SE Texas?
The Biden administration decision is a setback for various industries. It broadens which wetlands, streams and rivers can be regulated under the Clean Water Act.
But given the impacts to public health and the immense economic interests at stake, this won’t be the last time we see the rules change. An army of lobbyists is likely mobilizing right now.
Several developments in the Lake Houston Area contained wetlands affected regulation changes. Consider, for instance, the case of Woodridge Village. The Army Corps ruled that it contained wetlands, but that the wetlands didn’t fall under their jurisdiction because of rules in effect at the time. So there was no violation of the Clean Water Act. Hundreds of homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest flooded, partially as a result of the environmental destruction.
In this area, sediment pollution is one of our most serious concerns. We’ve seen repeated and almost constant releases into the West Fork from 20-square miles of sand mines immediately upstream from us.
Searching on the word “breach” in ReduceFlooding.com pulls up 116 stories, many of which show multiple breaches.
But mining isn’t the only upstream issue at stake. So is sediment pollution from new development.
Making Private Expenses a Public Cost
The EPA lists sediment as the most common pollutant in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs. It has contributed to flooding thousands of homes in the Lake Houston Area.
Both mouth bars above have since been dredged at great public expense, but abuses continue. I just wish we could all find a way to live together. This should not be a case of health and safety vs. economic development. We need all three for communities to prosper.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/2/23
1952 days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.