Trump's destruction of environmental rules is pushing us back to dark days of ignorance (opinion)

And yet, this is essentially where the Trump administration is taking us with new implemented rules that dismantle decades of environmental protection. The rules, which went into effect Thursday, will allow all types of pollutants to be dumped in our wetlands, seasonal streams, waterways that temporarily flow underground and transients that result from rain and snow.

These waterways end up feeding the larger bodies that supply much of our drinking water. Removing your protection creates a real and urgent danger to our health and the environment.

One of the most important things we have learned in the environmental sciences over the past 50 years is that things are connected. In the 1960s, we were shocked to learn that if we applied DDT to kill mosquitoes on farms and neighborhoods, it would move from soil and water to small insects and then to small fish and then to larger fish and then to eagles.

And we were more shocked to learn that DDT accumulated in the bodies of eagles and thinned their egg shells, leading to a massive decline in eagles and other large (and charismatic) birds.
We used that knowledge to create alternative ways to manage mosquitoes, and now the recovery of eagles is a huge success in science and environmental management.
The science of the past few decades has also taught us that small streams, sometimes dry and wet areas, are connected to small permanent streams, which are connected and affect quality of large streams, rivers, estuaries and oceans.

The intermittent bodies of water targeted by the new rules work like alveoli – the little air sacs that make our lungs work. Draining, filling and fertilizing them is analogous to how smoking blocks the alveoli in our lungs, leading to emphysema and other respiratory problems.

In fact, the past has already shown that, when we destroy or mismanage small intermittent streams and wetlands, the streams, rivers and estuaries larger than they are connected to decline, lead to dead zones in places like the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay.
On climate, Trump is guilty of voluntary ignorance

The resulting destruction affects everything from drinking water to wildlife and the related fishing and sports industries, on which many depend for their livelihood.

Progress in environmental science is not easy and is generally slow to respond to threats. It was a great challenge to diagnose the problems with DDT and eagles, and it was even more difficult to propose and implement solutions. With intermittent streams and wetlands, there were similar challenges in understanding the connection to larger threats and it was even more difficult to implement solutions that balance the interests of farmers, home builders, communities and nature.

But there have been many crucial achievements victories, and our air and water are cleaner because of them. The species are recovering. And environmental waste is treated more safely than it was 50 years ago.

The Trump administration's decision to revisit a dark past of ignorance and environmental mismanagement is more than worrying; it's dangerous.

His continued efforts to disable existing protections in the waters of the United States (WOTUS) are an example of how we can undo progress and damage the environment and ourselves if we ignore science.

And with the same certainty that a retired smoker's lungs would be damaged and at risk of cancer if they went back to smoking, our ecosystems and the people who depend on them are being exposed to a serious risk by reversing the rules of WOTUS.


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