Rachel Conn was in a state wetlands meeting Tuesday when she heard the news: The Trump administration had released its revised Clean Water Rule. For Conn, who has been working on issues related to the rule for more than 15 years, it was another twist in a legal and administrative saga that could leave most of New Mexico’s streams and wetlands without clean water protections. Under the new rule issued Tuesday, almost 60 percent of the waterways and wetlands nationwide would no longer be protected under the Clean Water Act. The new rule says streams that flow only in response to snowmelt or rainfall—“ephemeral” streams—would not be protected. It also questions removing protections from “intermittent” streams, or those that have a baseflow from groundwater recharge, but may not run above-ground throughout the entire year.
The last two years of the Trump administration have been challenging for both environmental and immigrant advocacy groups at the border. Renewed calls to build a $25 billion wall that would cut through important wildlife habitat for species like the jaguar and the Mexican gray wolf, combined with the impacts of ramped-up militarization in border communities, have increasingly united conservationists and social justice activists. This newfound collaboration is especially strong in Las Cruces, in southern New Mexico. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission. Here, in the Borderlands, groups like the faith-based organization NMCAFé and the American Civil Liberties Union Regional Center for Border Rights have long worked on immigration reform and fought for immigrant rights at detention facilities.
This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, finalized the “Waters of the United States” applicability date. Last March, President Donald Trump directed the agencies to review the “Clean Water Rule” also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule, which was finalized in 2015 as a way to clarify confusion over parts of the Clean Water Act. The rule applies to navigable waterways and their tributaries. Under the rule, a tributary doesn’t need to be a continuously flowing body of water. But it must have flowing water—marked by a bed, bank and high water mark—to warrant protection.
Betsy Southerland knew something was wrong the moment she walked into her office at the Environmental Protection Agency. It was 8 a.m. on a Thursday in April and already, her team was waiting at her door, computer printouts in hand. For months, staffers in the Office of Water had been in help-desk mode, fielding calls from states implementing a federal rule that set new limits on water-borne pollution released by coal-fired power plants. The rule on what is known as “effluent” had been hammered out over a decade of scientific study and intense negotiations involving utility companies, White House officials and environmental advocates. The EPA had checked and rechecked its calculations to make sure the benefits of the proposed change outweighed the cost to the economy.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump brought a relatively obscure but important water rule to national attention. Trump signed an executive order directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the “Clean Water Rule” also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule. Trump’s order does not overturn the rule, which was already under a court injunction thanks to a lawsuit from 13 states, including New Mexico. Instead, it orders a final review of the rule, which will likely take years. The Clean Water Rule was finalized in 2015 as a way to clarify confusion over parts of the Clean Water Act, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972.
After more than a decade of freelancing for magazines, newspapers and radio, I’m settling down. Beginning this month, readers of NM Political Report will start seeing more news stories about water, environmental justice, public lands, wildlife, nuclear waste, climate change and energy. As much as I have loved working with different editors and teams over the years, I am relieved that NM Political Report has decided it needs to be covering statewide environmental issues regularly. During a time when issues like climate change, water and environmental regulations have become increasingly important, newspapers nationwide have cut their science and environment beats. On top of that, strapped newsrooms often don’t have the resources—or the subscribers—to justify covering issues that are so important to rural communities.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized a rule that environmental groups say restores protections to streams and headwaters while Republicans called it another example of President Barack Obama’s executive overreach. Obama said that the action will help protect streams, lakes and other smaller bodies of water with connections to rivers and larger bodies of water that are already covered by the Clean Water Act. “This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable,” Obama said in a statement released on Tuesday. “My Administration has made historic commitments to clean water, from restoring iconic watersheds like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes to preserving more than a thousand miles of rivers and other waters for future generations,” he continued. Essentially the Waters of the United States rule, as it is known, formalizes what the Clean Water Act means for “navigable waters.”