On Feb. 28, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order demanding a review of the controversial Waters of the United States rule. The act, signed in during Barack Obama’s presidency, allows for the regulation and protection of smaller bodies of water in the country. Reports were also leaked regarding a 97 percent funding cut for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
University of Michigan experts have spoken out against the executive order, as well as another order expected out of the Oval Office that would withdraw Obama’s Clean Power Plan that aims to curb emissions from coal-fired power plants. The 10 University experts are making themselves available to discuss the effects of the orders, according to a press release from the Michigan News.
Controversy surrounded the Waters of the United States rule when it was first established in 2015, with supporters touting it as a public health necessity and opponents saying it was an act of overregulation. In his statement upon signing his executive order, Trump criticized the act, calling it a “power grab” from the EPA.
“The EPA’s so-called Waters of the United States rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation … a few years ago, the EPA decided that navigable waters can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land or anyplace else that they decide,” Trump said. “Right? It was a massive power grab.”
However, University Law Prof. David Uhlmann, who is an expert on the Waters of the United States rule, said Trump’s decision to roll back the rule is a critical error.
“The president ignores elementary school science: The health of America’s rivers and streams — and the drinking water for countless cities and towns — depends upon the protection of the headwaters streams and tributaries that flow into our rivers and streams,” Uhlmann said. “With each passing day, it becomes apparent that ‘making America great again’ means turning back the clock to a pre-1970s era of racial discrimination, sexism and rivers on fire.”
Concerns also surround the welfare of the Great Lakes in light of this executive order. The order came just a few days before reports were leaked referring to a 97 percent budget cut in funding for the Great Lakes.
Jennifer Read, director of the University Water Center, thinks cutting the act will create confusion and would be harmful to the Great Lakes.
“While concern about regulatory burden is understandable, the overall goal of ensuring downstream water quality by maximizing the health and integrity of upstream wetlands is something that will benefit all of us,” Read said. “Striking down the rule will return us to a place of ambiguity that will waste time and resources and could harm wetlands, streams and rivers in the Great Lakes region and across the country.”
Michigan legislators have spoken out against the rumors alleging a large cut in funding for the Great Lakes Restorative Initiative.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the cuts were first reported by Rob Davis of the Oregonian, and while reports have not been officially released, the figures Davis sites have been confirmed by Bill Becker, executive director of the Association of Clean Air Agencies.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.), who has been involved in the Great Lakes Restorative Initiative since its conception, issued a statement expressing her outrage at the proposed cuts. She is especially concerned with how the cutback could affect Michigan’s wildlife habitats.
“This initiative has been critical to cleaning up our Great Lakes and waterways, restoring fish and wildlife habitats, and fighting invasive species, like Asian carp,” Stabenow wrote in her official statement. “Our Great Lakes are part of our DNA and an important driver of our economy in Michigan and I call on President Trump to reverse course on these harmful decisions.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D–Flint) issued a similar statement, chastising the Trump administration for turning the Great Lakes into a partisan issue.
Kildee pledged to fight against the cuts, should they become a reality, calling them “extreme and dangerous.”
“The Great Lakes propel our economy, generating billions in annual economic activity and supporting 1.5 million good-paying jobs in the tourism, boating and fishing industries,” he wrote. “Protecting the Great Lakes has never been a partisan issue and it shouldn’t be now under a new administration. If these careless cuts are presented to Congress, I will fight them in every way that I can.”