By Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
Dec. 10, 2018
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to announce on Tuesday a rollback of the Clean Water Rule that would dramatically curtail the number of protected waterways and wetlands. “I want clean water. Very important.” So spoke the nation’s Golfer-in-Chief just a few weeks ago.
But he apparently doesn’t want obtaining clean water to interfere with the prerogatives and profits of his businesses.
The Trump administration’s expected rollback of the Clean Water Rule would benefit owners of golf courses around the country. Among those owners: President Donald Trump himself. This move is par for the course for an administration rife with conflicts of interest.
A rollback of the rule would benefit Trump, who owns or has Trump-branded golf courses in Florida (two), New York (three), New Jersey (two), Virginia (outside Washington, D.C.), California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. As the nation’s Golfer-in-Chief, Trump is aiding his industry – and his own businesses – by undercutting vital protections for Americans’ drinking water and waterways.
The Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule was designed to protect the cleanliness and health of our nation’s waters. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this objective. Almost one in three Americans – roughly 117 million people – get their drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection before issuance of the rule. Golf course owners – including Trump – shouldn’t be able to pollute the nation’s water with pesticides and fertilizers, as a rollback would in many cases allow them to do. News reports indicate we should expect not just a recalibration but a major scaling back of Clean Water Act application, leaving the public in the rough.
In January, investigating this move should be high up on the oversight agenda of the new U.S. House of Representatives. The Congress should investigate the internal debate that surely occurred within the EPA, because it is highly unlikely that career staff believe this move to be scientifically or legally defensible. Lawmakers also should probe what communications occurred between the EPA and the White House. Trump is famously oblivious to the details of governance, but he also has demonstrated inappropriate, laser-like focus on matters that directly impact his businesses. Has Trump intervened in this matter? Has he been consulted and informed about this specific matter distinct from comparable regulatory issues?
These are not the kinds of questions that Americans should ever have to ask. And we wouldn’t, if Trump had divested his business holdings – a state of affairs underscoring the importance of legislation, such as the expected H.R. 1 in the new Congress, which is likely to require presidents to divest their business holdings upon taking office.