EPA Says Clean Water Rule Relies “Too Much” on Science

Jared Mott, IWLA Conservation Director
Warning sign for polluted water (Photo credit: iStock)

On June 29th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that it had over-emphasized science in determining how to protect drinking water supplies, streams, and wetlands essential to fish and wildlife. That’s right. EPA said that a decision it made less than three years ago to restore Clean Water Act protections to tributary streams and certain wetlands relied too heavily on science.

Science overwhelmingly demonstrates that water quality in small streams affects water quality in larger streams, rivers, and lakes into which these small streams flow. When it comes to protecting the water we drink and habitat that affects the survival of fish and wildlife, the Izaak Walton League believes it’s impossible to rely too much on science.

In 2015, EPA adopted policy – known as the Clean Water Rule – to restore Clean Water Act protections to small streams and some wetlands. The Rule is based on the best available science, including about 1,200 peer-reviewed and other scientific studies about water quality. Science – and common sense – provide the foundation for the Rule.

Now EPA wants to push those protections aside and essentially reverse its decision from three years ago. But the science is standing in the way. The agency needs a justification to reverse direction. So EPA is claiming that science played an outsized role in determining which waters to protect under the Clean Water Act, the goal of which is to restore and maintain the “chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.”

The idea that our nation should not look to science to inform us which waters fall under the protection of the Clean Water Act – one of our bedrock environmental laws – just doesn’t pass the laugh test. EPA is tasked with using science to understand and effectively address threats to our country’s air and water, public health, and quality of life. Assessing how to protect the integrity of our waters without looking to science seems a fool’s errand.

The League will continue to fight to ensure the EPA relies on science to make decisions about our nation’s natural resources. Whether it’s safe drinking water or quality outdoor recreation, there’s simply too much at stake to put politics ahead of science.