Freshwater Weekly – May 18, 2018

Posted on May 18, 2018 by

This week: White House suppresses water pollution report + infrastructure funding + Clean Water Rule + Michigan relaxes mining rules

Action Alert: Forty Members of Congress Co-Sponsor New WATER Act

Known formally as the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act, the bill would provide $35 billion/year indefinitely to expand access to safe and affordable water in the United States by updating water and sewer systems, improving rural wells and septic systems, financing the removal of lead pipes, and cleaning up drinking water in our public schools.

Since the bill finances the plan by repealing a small portion of the recent tax law’s corporate tax cuts, the bill faces a steep, uphill climb in the House. The bill was referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and in addition, to the Committees on Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Agriculture. Along with organizations across the country, Freshwater Future is giving folks the opportunity to contact legislators on these committees to build momentum for action. Water is and should be a bipartisan issue, and state and local governments can’t shoulder the burden alone.

Send a message to our legislators here. Let’s make clean water an election issue, and get this bill out of committee.

White House Suppresses Water Pollution Report

By now, you may have heard of a certain class of chemical called polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs. Around the nation, PFAS contamination has been discovered in ground water and drinking water around shuttered industrial sites, airports, and military bases where certain cleaners, textiles, leathers, papers, paints, fire-fighting foams, and wire insulation were either manufactured or deployed.

Politico reported Monday, citing emails that were recently disclosed, that the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency under Scott Pruitt sought earlier this year to stop the publication of a study examining the scope of PFAS contamination.”The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department (DoD)] is going to be extremely painful,” one email reportedly said. “We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.” ATSDR refers to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which had been preparing to publish the study.

The study found that PFASs were detectable at the minimum reporting levels required by the EPA in 194 out of 4,864 water supplies in 33 states across the U.S. It also conveyed that the chemicals pose dangers to health at much lower levels than the EPA previously deemed safe. The study remains unpublished.

Action Alert: Special Interests Keep Trying, but the Clean Water Rule Keeps Surviving (For Now)

The Clean Water Rule was published by the EPA in 2015 in response to confusion about the scope of the Clean Water Act (1972) from legislators at multiple levels, industry members, researchers, science professionals, activists, and citizens. The rule would have clarified federal jurisdiction over waterways that provide ⅓ of Americans with drinking water. As of today, the Clean Water Act is the federal government’s strongest tool for preventing water pollution and keeping waterways healthy and safe for drinking.

One of the first major moves by Scott Pruitt—President Trump’s EPA Administrator—was to announce his intention to dismantle the rule. Past court cases have made it clear that the EPA is legally required to issue a clarification of the Clean Water Act (1972), but the Trump EPA has put the Obama-era rule on hold while delaying its own replacement. While the EPA initially was aiming to overhaul the rule by the end of the year, it now plans to implement changes no sooner than September of 2019.

Meanwhile, special interests have attempted to use Congress to circumvent the legal requirement and legal challenges by attaching a “rider” to larger bills that would allow the EPA to essentially kill the rule without the need for public input or proper justification. They’ve tried more than once, and they’ve failed each time thanks to residents like you who’ve reached out to their representatives in Congress.

But they’re at it again, trying to sneak the rider into a spending bill for 2019. Click here to contact your representative and tell them to vote NO on FY19 House Energy and Water funding bill until the rider is removed.

Michigan Relaxes Mining Rules

Several weeks ago, we reached out to Michigan residents asking them to speak up about a pair of dangerous mining bills, written by industry for industry. We were successful in shutting down one. But earlier this week we reached out again to stage a last ditch effort to stop the other bill. Unfortunately, we weren’t successful and SB No. 839 passed 63 to 45 in the House, sending it to Governor Snyder for his signature.

One aspect of the bill will allow the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to approve unrestrained underground expansion of mines. This means companies will be able to expand their mining operations below-ground with just a thumbs up from friendly DEQ officials. No public disclosure. No public review. No public comment. There are several Upper Peninsula copper-sulfide mines near sensitive habitats and watersheds. Allowing mining companies to tunnel without public review and without going through the usual permitting process puts those habitats and watersheds at risk. We’ll keep you updated as we monitor the activities of Upper Peninsula mining companies, and we’ll let you know of any other opportunities to take action.

Ways to Make a Difference

There are lots of simple ways to help protect our waters. Find more at


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.