Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announces that new coal plants no longer have to meet planned, tougher, Obama era emissions standards, during a news conference at the EPA Headquarters in Washington, Thursday, 6 December 2018. Photo: Cliff Owen / AP Photo

By Ellen Knickmeyer
7 December 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) – One after another, landmark U.S. protections for climate, air and land are in the crosshairs of the Trump administration as his agency leaders move past early fumbles and scandals to start delivering on a succession of promised environmental rollbacks.

On Thursday, the Interior Department proposed easing rules on oil and gas drilling for millions of acres of range in the West. And as soon as next week, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to unveil its proposed rewrite of a major 2015 Obama rule that extended federal protections to thousands of waterways and wetlands.

Supporters and opponents expect the overhaul of the national water rule could go even further, also changing aspects of how the U.S. enforces the 1972 Clean Water Act, one of the country’s foundation environmental measures. Environmental groups say the rewrite could lift federal protections for millions of miles of streams and wetlands in the lower 48 states.

The broad outline of the administration water rule to emerge so far points to “an unprecedented rollback of Clean Water Act protections,” said Jan Goldman-Carter, senior director of wetlands and water resources at the National Wildlife Federation.

The pending water rule changes and other major rollbacks already announced give big wins to energy companies, farmers, builders, and others who’ve fought for decades against environmental rules they see aimed at stalling or stopping projects until developers give up.

“This is what’s being done in the country to stifle … progress. President Trump is very aware of this,” said Myron Ebell, a director at the Washington-based Conservative Enterprise Institute who led President Donald Trump’s environmental transition team. […]

Up to 60 percent of the stream miles in the continental U.S., not counting Alaska, and more than half of the wetlands appear to potentially be affected, Goldman-Carter, with the National Wildlife Federation, said.

The overhaul, commanded by Trump in a 2017 executive order, deals with what kinds of waterways fall under protection of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Environmental groups say more than a half-century of federal preservation of even remote, unloved and at times bone-dry creeks and wetlands has helped protect major downstream lakes and rivers from upstream pollutants, fertilizer runoffs and oil spills, helped clean up big water bodies including the Chesapeake Bay, and helped buffer humans against droughts, floods, and hurricanes. […]

Other rollbacks late this summer targeted what had been legacy Obama efforts to combat climate change by reducing coal, oil, and gas emissions from the nation’s electrical grid and passenger vehicles.

Many of the rollbacks put in motion aim to prop up the declining U.S. coal industry. That includes one Wheeler announced Thursday for new coal plants. [more]

Landmark environmental protections being rolled back

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