By Taylor Goebel
WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump on Tuesday mentioned the environment only once in his 75-minute address to Congress, saying only that “my administration wants to work with members in both parties … to promote clean air and clean water.”
Earlier in the day, he signed an order for the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider a rule that clarifies its oversight of the nation’s bodies of water. Trump called former President Barack Obama’s Waters of the U.S. rule “one of the worst examples of federal regulation” and claimed it was “strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers.” The rule has also been criticized by Republican officials and gas and oil companies, pesticide makers and others in the business sector.
The Clean Water Rule, which clarifies what waterways the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers can oversee, covers more than half of U.S. waterways.
At the time of the signing, the president said the breadth of EPA regulation from the rule would hurt interstate commerce, put many people out of jobs, and treat small businesses “as if they were a major industrial polluter.”
A notice on the EPA's Clean Water Rule website said the EPA "intends to immediately implement the Executive Order and submit a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to withdraw and replace the rule." It went on to explain the president's action "preserves a federal role in protecting water, but it also restores the states’ important role in the regulation of water."
In his address to Congress, Trump focused on eliminating “job-crushing regulations” and regulatory burdens on businesses. He did not mention his order on the Clean Water Rule.
Trump said in his speech that his administration has “cleared the way for the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines.” In 2015, the EPA released comments on Keystone XL stating that the “development of oil sands crude represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.” Trump did not mention climate change or pollution at all in his address.
The Clean Water Rule could be part of an EPA rollback under the Trump administration. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who is on the Environment and Public Works Committee, called Trump’s EPA rollback on the rule “appalling” in a statement on Monday.
“Defense spending is important, but cannot come at the expense of children in Flint (Michigan) and so many other communities across the country who are in harm’s way when they turn on their tap,” Carper said in the statement. “The only thing today’s (executive order) makes clear is that clean water is not a priority for the Trump Administration.”
The Sierra Club tweeted during Trump’s speech, “Saying you value clean water the same day you gut the "Clean Water Rule" only makes polluters great again.”
Trump’s budget blueprint of a $54 billion increase in military spending would come at the expense of the EPA, with possible cuts to a fourth of the agency’s budget and another 20 percent of its workforce, according to sources knowledgeable of the budget.
Senate Minority leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted that Trump’s budget blueprint would take “a meat ax to programs that benefit the middle class.”
Schumer said in a statement Monday that “a cut this steep almost certainly means cuts to agencies that protect consumers from Wall Street excess and protect clean air and water.”