Leaked memo: Pruitt taking control of Clean Water Act determinations

Key provisions in the Clean Water Act are now under the control of one person at the US Environmental Protection Agen...

Posted: Apr 4, 2018 12:17 PM
Updated: Apr 4, 2018 12:17 PM

Key provisions in the Clean Water Act are now under the control of one person at the US Environmental Protection Agency -- Administrator Scott Pruitt, according to a leaked memo obtained by CNN.

In the new directive, Pruitt states he will make final critical decisions about preservation of streams, ponds and wetlands.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility provided CNN with a copy of the memo dated March 30, 2018. In the memo calling for "regulatory certainty," Pruitt directed EPA regional offices to "cede their Clean Water Act determinations" to him, said Kyla Bennett, the New England director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The memo states: "With this revised delegation, authority previously delegated to regional administrators to make final determinations of geographic jurisdiction shall be retained by the Administrator. ... As part of effectuating this revision, I ask that you involve the Administrator's Office early on in the process of developing geographic determinations."

The move appears to change the approval process to lessen the role of EPA employees and scientists when it comes to evaluating whether a project has a significant negative environmental impact on waterways or wetlands.

These projects could be anything from transportation projects to new residential housing, coal mining, oil projects, even President Donald Trump's border wall or "any other project that discharges ... fill material into a wetland or waterway," according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The projects must receive permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and final approval from the EPA. Traditionally, regional EPA offices and career EPA scientists review the requests for permits to determine whether the project is detrimental to the local environment and the larger goal of waterway and wetland preservation.

Environmentalists are sensitive to this because they say waterways, streams and wetlands are critical to the drinking supply and flood storage due to the impact of climate change. They're also necessary for fishery and wildlife habitats.

Scientists from the regional EPA offices go into the field to make the assessments.

"Now a man in DC who knows nothing about local environmental conditions will be making the decisions about wetlands and waterways he's probably never seen," Bennett said.

Before this memo, if a regional office determined it was best to veto a project proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA headquarters would approve the veto, Bennett said. "Headquarter approval was just a rubber stamp because they knew regional offices and scientists had the expertise," she said.

CNN has reached out to the EPA for comment.

"This action subjects safeguards for clean water across the US to filtration through one politician's hands," said Bennett, an attorney, scientist and wetlands specialist who formerly worked for the EPA. "Every corporation that wants a pass on Clean Water Act compliance is invited to privately meet with the most user-friendly EPA administrator in history."

Bennett pointed out that last year, Pruitt announced a plan to shrink by as much as two-thirds the scope of the protected "Waters of the United States" rule that defines the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Now, without waiting to outline, let alone complete, his legal rewrite, this new move will unilaterally nullify current standards, Bennett said.

"This latest move by Pruitt is his Plan B, as it is becoming increasingly clear that his Clean Water rewrite plan is illegal and will be tossed out in court," she said.

One of the authorities that makes the EPA powerful is its ability to review and veto permits for building projects.

Bennett says the move "emasculates" the agency.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 352891

Reported Deaths: 7597
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds24704451
DeSoto23619283
Harrison21395335
Jackson15984255
Rankin15957294
Madison11224227
Lee10952180
Jones9316171
Forrest9136163
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Monroe4390138
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Pike3771114
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Tate356188
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Scott349177
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Leake291976
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Clay204654
Holmes204374
Clarke190480
Tallahatchie185842
Smith184936
Calhoun184632
Yalobusha174241
Walthall151249
Lawrence146426
Greene144735
Amite140144
Noxubee137635
Perry137038
Montgomery134644
Carroll127531
Webster125132
Jefferson Davis121334
Tunica116627
Benton108425
Claiborne106131
Kemper105029
Humphreys102533
Franklin88724
Quitman86819
Choctaw83619
Wilkinson79632
Jefferson72328
Sharkey52018
Issaquena1746
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 595816

Reported Deaths: 11561
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson865251591
Mobile50436872
Madison37905534
Shelby27652260
Tuscaloosa27422465
Montgomery26428628
Baldwin26175329
Lee17414181
Calhoun15549334
Morgan15265291
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Marshall13248236
Houston12297294
Elmore11006220
St. Clair10903252
Limestone10867158
Cullman10643206
Lauderdale10374255
DeKalb9603193
Talladega9032188
Walker7873288
Autauga7635114
Blount7463140
Jackson7450117
Colbert6780142
Coffee6515132
Dale5803117
Covington4864125
Russell483543
Chilton4828117
Franklin465681
Tallapoosa4591156
Escambia457583
Chambers4007125
Dallas3756164
Clarke374663
Marion3490107
Pike336979
Lawrence3280100
Winston301973
Bibb293766
Geneva293083
Marengo263867
Barbour254361
Pickens247962
Butler243672
Hale236979
Fayette228565
Henry218845
Monroe206941
Randolph203844
Cherokee201748
Washington189439
Macon172252
Crenshaw171758
Clay167659
Cleburne161845
Lamar152638
Lowndes146555
Wilcox132731
Bullock126542
Conecuh123032
Coosa119729
Perry111228
Sumter110933
Greene99937
Choctaw64525
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