By FRANCES LAMBERTS
The wrecking ball came to East Tennessee University to tear down the sapling “Old-Time Religion” chapel structures which were a delight to the campus and visitors for more than three years.
A wrecking ball seems also at work in Washington, operationally centered at the White House.
This one is targeting more than dried-twig structures or symbolic reminders of past American traditions. Instead, through one after another presidential decree, it is going after health-protective systems and such essential features of the living world as clean and abundant water.
The Center for Rural Affairs’ commentary, in this paper on May 31, noted that “as prescribed by executive order, the Environmental Protection Agency has formally begun the process to withdraw the Clean Water Rule.”
The Trump Administration’s goal was, it stated, to “only protect waterways that are ‘relatively permanent’,” excluding from regulatory protection the small tributaries which may not run year-round.
Wills Branch, running through the Sutherland cattle farm near Iron Mountain was one such non-permanent creek nourishing its larger stream. In the late 1990s, when Mountain City was in the throes of a severe drought, water was pumped from it to Silver Lake, thus making it a temporary drinking-water supply source for the city.
In Tennessee, small, intermittent head-water streams feed into most – 57 percent – of the river miles which have surface water intakes for public drinking water systems.
The small tributaries’ importance in helping assure flow constancy in the larger streams could hardly be overstated in the drought-challenged world we face under climate change.
Abandoning them, as per the noted executive order, will make even worse the drought planning problems many water utilities have been facing in recent years.
Under another White House decree, the waterways are to have lead, mercury, arsenic, and other toxic pollutants from the electric power industry continue to be dumped into them, indefinitely.
When Clean Water Act standards were set in 1982, the coal-fired power plants were grandfathered in with exemptions for these, on assumption of upgrading over time as treatment technology became available.
Such upgrading was not performed, however, and nearly 35 percent of the plants discharge this pollution within 5 miles of a downstream community’s drinking water intake, store it in nearby ash slurry ponds or discharge within 5 miles of a public drinking water well.
Linked to such health consequences as cancer, heart disease and stroke, and potentially lasting brain damage in children, the pollutants had been a source of concern for the Environmental Protection Agency over several successive administrations. The Kingston ash-dam disaster, at the Tennessee Valley Authority in December 2008, finally sparked regulatory review and action.
Following years of study and public hearings, in November 2015 the Agency announced Effluent Limitation Guidelines for the pollutants. The ELG allowed much time – from 2018 until 2022 – for the industry to achieve compliance with the requirements.
On April 12, the White House wrecking ball deflected the ELG rule. The President’s EPA Administrator, placing its implementation on indefinite hold, is taking down clean water and public health protections which America’s citizens want, need, and deserve.