Court strikes down Trump-era rule that allowed pollution of wetlands and streams

The Trump rule risked ‘serious environmental harm’, a federal judge rules

Sheila Flynn
In Denver, Colorado
Wednesday 01 September 2021 21:34

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A federal judge has reversed a Trump-era rule which paved the way for pollution of marshes, wetlands, and other bodies of water.

On Monday, Judge Rosemary Márquez of the US District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that the 2020 policy under former President Donald Trump had “fundamental, substantive flaws” that allowed for the “possibility of serious environmental harm”.

Under the Trump rule, more than 300 projects across the country proceeded with no environmental permitting.

It meant that industrial chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants could flow into streams, wetlands and other bodies of water which are vital to ecosystem preservation. The 2020 regulations also allowed dredging and filling of bodies of water without permits in hundreds of instances.

The ruling was made in a lawsuit brought over the Trump rule by environmental legal non-profit, Earthjustice, on behalf of Native American tribes.

“The court recognized that the serious legal and scientific errors ... were causing irreparable damage to our nation’s waters and would continue to do so unless that rule was vacated,” said Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice attorney.

“It is inconceivable that critical waters or wetlands would be considered insignificant or unworthy of pollution protections,” Gunnar Peters, chair of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, said following the judge’s decision. ”Proper  federal regulation  protects wetlands and headwater streams from irreparable harm and destruction.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, wetlands are “biological supermarkets” and “among the most productive ecosystems in the world.”

The important functions of wetlands and similar systems includes protecting and improving water quality, providing fish and wildlife habitats, storing floodwaters and maintaining surface water flow during dry periods.

Polluting such bodies of water not only upsets ecosystems but can contribute to more severe hurricane damage.

“Coastal wetlands are really important in the context of climate change, because they help mitigate storm surges,” Elizabeth Burke Watson, associate professor of environmental science at Drexel University, told The Independent. “They do that because they have all these really dense plant stems” which help to reduce “the height of the storm surge.”

Wetlands also help reduce carbon emissions, she said, as the planet combats climate change. They “sequester carbon” and “have carbon-dense soil, and they accumulate over time - so they’re basically like a natural carbon sink.”

On an “acre-by-acre basis, wetlands sequester more carbon than forests,” Dr Watson told The Independent.

A paper published last year by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explored how wetlands can help mitigate deterioration of coastlines linked to the climate crisis by lessening the impact of storm surge and strong winds.

University of California San Diego academics Fanglin Sun and Richard T. Carson analysed property damage caused by 88 tropical storms and hurricanes hitting the United States between 1996 and 2016 and concluded “that counties with more wetland coverage experienced significantly less property damage...”

While environmentalists applauded Judge Marquez’s ruling, some farmers and businesses were less enthusiastic.

“This ruling casts uncertainty over farmers and ranchers across the country and threatens the progress they’ve made to responsibly manage water and natural resources,” Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, told The Times. ““We are reviewing the ruling to determine our next course of action.”

EPA administrator Michael S. Regan announced in June that plans are underway to create a new water protection rule within a year.

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