Trump admin slashes historic environmental protections

Rule changes once again put profit over planet and people

Patriotism is often described as a love, devotion, dedication and support for one’s country. 

President Donald Trump and his administration’s brand of patriotism blatantly excludes a dedication to the physical land and resources of our nation, unless they are profitable or exploitable. 

Since his inauguration in 2017, Trump has worked hard to earn his reputation as the most anti-environment president in history, and big businesses reward him for this. 

His administration has consistently worked to make it easier to exploit natural resources, reduce public lands and deny the necessity for environmental protections against issues like the climate crisis. 

This month, with his eyes set on appeasing his voter base and gaining re-election, Trump has lowered the bar even further on how ignorant a president can be to environmental protections by slashing decades-old environmental protections which he calls “wasteful” and full of “endless delays.” 

In January alone, the Trump administration has rolled back provisions of two landmark environmental protection laws, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act. 

NEPA has required the researching and reporting of environmental impact assessments from federal agencies as they begin new projects since its inception in 1970. 

This means that projects such as the construction of highways, development of lands and emissions from fossil fuel use by the agencies of the federal government had to be assessed in planning and execution. 

To those who care about protecting our nation’s resources and our futures, these are reasonable requirements; to Donald Trump and his most recent EPA administrator, these processes qualify as “regulatory nightmare[s]” and “welfare cases” for trial attorneys. 

Their proposed changes seek to reduce the amount of assessment required and set time limits on the assessment process, both with goals of expediting projects with less “red tape.”

Similarly, the 48-year-old Clean Water Act has protected streams, rivers, lakes, sources of drinking water and countless aquatic ecosystems from pollution, especially from industrial and agricultural practices. 

A new provision from the Trump administration, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, seeks to eliminate protections from ephemeral (or seasonal, not constant) streams and wetlands in favor of eliminating regulatory permitting processes to farmers and industries. 

While the idea seems harmless on paper, the interconnectedness of streams and wetlands to larger bodies of water and ecosystems makes this an environmentally irresponsible decision. 

Even the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board spoke out against the rule, stating that it “decreases protection for our Nation’s waters” and “does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining the ‘chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of these waters.” 

In short, these protection-slashes are not in the best long-term interest of our nation’s resources but rather in the interest of short-term profit maximization. 

Furthermore, I believe that these rollbacks can and will have tangible impacts on our coastal communities, with a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged communities and communities of color.

Here in Virginia and all across the Chesapeake watershed where we depend on the health of our waterways so greatly, the impacts of these rollbacks are likely to be felt first hand. 

While some argue the Trump administration’s decisions are in the interest of state sovereignty, I would argue again that the interconnectedness of our waterways and our ecosystems demand uniform, stringent environmental protections from catastrophic pollution in the interest of “economic development.” 

Cutting back the requirements of NEPA will reduce intentional planning behind new federal projects in the watershed region, and the Clean Water Act changes will allow our waters to be legally polluted. 

Unprotected waters will not help our economy here in the Chesapeake region but likely displace it. 

Citing data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) states that “[the] commercial seafood industry in Maryland and Virginia contributed $3.39 billion in sales, $890 million in income and almost 34,000 jobs to the local economy” in 2009. 

However, they also cite the major losses felt by our communities when our aquatic ecosystems decline, often as a result of pollution. 

Over the last three decades, “Maryland and Virginia have suffered more than $4 billion in cumulative annual losses because of the decline of industries related to oyster harvesting.” 

Stripping our waters of their protections will not benefit our economy, but greatly jeopardize it. 

Finally, these changes pertain to issues directly connected to social injustice as well – some argue that these changes will affect clean water access, which is already greatly divided between wealthy versus disadvantaged communities and white versus non-white communities. 

A recent study from the U.S. Water Alliance claimed that race is still the strongest predicting factor in whether or not someone has access to clean water. 

Their report finds that “Latino and African American households are twice as likely as white households to lack indoor plumbing; Native Americans are 19 times more likely.” 

Clean water access is already a crucial, national crisis for many communities of color and indigenous communities, and these rollbacks will only make that crisis worse. 

By choosing to strip protections to environmental health and waterways, the Trump administration is acting complacent with the current crisis facing disadvantaged communities. 

Altogether, these are the types of decisions that show where our President and his administration has their priorities aligned, and it is not with environmental concerns in mind. 

It is apparent that their decisions put the interest of industry over environment, coastal communities, common people, and these decisions are likely to intensify racial disparities and social injustices in access to clean water and environmental health.

~James Duffy, Staff Writer~

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