En­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions dy­ing

The Maui News - - TODAY’S PEOPLE - By ELLEN KNICKMEYER The As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON — 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 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 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.

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.

Maybe cru­cially, this month’s com­plex over­hauls of ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal rules are as­so­ci­ated mainly not with the high-pro­file po­lit­i­cal fig­ures that Trump ap­pointed as Cab­i­net heads for In­te­rior and En­vi­ron­ment, but with both men’s deputies, who are Wash­ing­ton vet­er­ans and tech­nocrats.

At EPA, now act­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tor An­drew Wheeler was named to suc­ceed Scott Pruitt, whose own, more hastily an­nounced en­vi­ron­men­tal roll­backs have been mired in le­gal chal­lenges since scan­dals over spend­ing helped drive Pruitt from of­fice in July.

At In­te­rior, Deputy Ad­min­is­tra­tion David Bern­hardt had worked on eas­ing the sage grouse pro­tec­tions hin­der­ing oil and gas drilling, and as a lob­by­ist for oil and gas pre­vi­ously. His boss, Ryan Zinke, re­mains in of­fice but is bat­tling to re­gain Trump’s fa­vor amid ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

My­ron Ebell, a di­rec­tor at the Wash­ing­ton-based Con­ser­va­tive En­ter­prise In­sti­tute who led Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump's en­vi­ron­men­tal tran­si­tion team, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion could be rolling back en­vi­ron­men­tal rules even more quickly if it had moved faster to fill lead­er­ship teams in fed­eral agen­cies.

“Dys­func­tion in the White House per­son­nel process has re­ally slowed them up, but they are start­ing to make some progress now,” he said.

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.

Many farm­ers, min­ers, builders and oth­ers loathe the fed­eral pro­tec­tions for re­mote creeks and sea­son­ally dry frog ponds, see­ing the wa­ter pro­tec­tions as un­jus­ti­fied fed­eral bar­ri­cades to plow­ing or build­ing on their own pri­vate prop­erty.

Many of the roll­backs put in mo­tion aim to prop up the de­clin­ing U.S. coal in­dus­try.

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