Executive Order Takes Aim at Our National Parks; Threatens Clean Water for All
By Chad Lord, Senior Director of Water Policy for National Parks Conservation Association
A little more than a month since President Trump was sworn into office, we have seen his administration take a series of actions to weaken or eliminate the very protections our parks depend on. These actions include eliminating protections for our waterways from mining, a hiring freeze making it impossible for the National Park Service to fill its more than 1,700 vacant, full-time positions, and orders that aim to eliminate or rollback safeguards for public health and the environment. And there is more.
Today, President Trump signed an order that threatens the long-term health of the American people and our national parks. The order instructs the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to revisit the Waters of the United States rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule, which will likely lead to weakening protections for 60 percent of the water bodies in the country. The rule was developed to end confusion about which of our nation’s streams, wetlands, lakes and rivers — the source of drinking water for 117 million Americans — are protected under the 1972 Clean Water Act.
The rule was developed after more than a decade of engaging the public in more than 400 public meetings with community leaders, farmers, ranchers, hunters, anglers, and state and local governments; yet the Trump administration seems determined to roll back this commonsense protection for our nation’s waters. There is no need to revisit, revise, or rollback this safeguard that only serves to ensure clean water for our kids, communities, wildlife, and parks.
Luckily, revoking this rule administratively won’t happen overnight. To do so will require the EPA and Army Corps to undergo an extensive public process of developing a proposal, gathering public comment and engaging stakeholders. All of these steps are an opportunity to remind the Trump administration just how far we’ve come in protecting our water and how far we still have to go.
If your clean drinking water or your last paddling trip weren’t enough to remind you why laws like the Clean Water Act exist, it was less than 50 years ago that Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, which runs through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, caught fire. At the time, limited protections for our waterways led to toxic industrial waste and oil-soaked debris filling the same rivers and lakes that supply our drinking water and flow through our national parks.
While protections like the Clean Water Act have improved the health of our nation’s waters, more than half of national park waterways still don’t meet healthy water quality standards. Not all threats to these waterways, like dumping and development happen within park boundaries, but they do impact park waterways downstream.
We cannot forget how far we’ve come. Chipping away at the policies and rules that protect the health of our parks and people threatens all of us.
National parks are places that unite all Americans, regardless of background or political persuasion. For too long, our natural environment has been subject to efforts to weaken or eliminate the very protections that our parks and people depend on for their health and well-being. It’s critical that we resist these pressures.
Today’s move by the Trump administration has real implications. It is a continuation of actions that take aim at our natural resources and our parks. Today it’s water. What will it be tomorrow, our air?
Working on behalf of all Americans, the Trump administration should support protecting our health and the places that enrich our souls, communities and local economies. That’s tough to do without clean water. We’ll continue working to make sure the administration knows that.