On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order relieving the Environmental Protection Agency from defending the Clean Water Rule of 2015, a rule created by executive order of former-President Barack Obama. The order further instructed a review of what is officially called the Waters of the United States rule to ensure it doesn’t hinder commerce.

Much has been made of the dueling presidential pens, but that’s not the issue here.

Every president, with the exception of William Harrison — who died just 31 days into his term — has signed one or more executive orders.

So, despite declarations that Obama abused the presidential pen, if he did he’s not alone.

And, Trump is on a clear pace to out-sign Obama.

Sadly, an order is more efficient than reasoned debate. More direct than negotiation, and there’s no need for compromise.

In signing the order Tuesday, Trump called the 2015 rule one of the worse examples of federal regulation there is, one that “has truly run amok.” The rule, resisted by the agriculture community, has — Trump said — prohibited “them from being allowed to do what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s been a disaster.”

Has it? The rule was so quickly challenged after it was signed that it never actually went into effect, so how has life changed for growers?

The rule was intended to clarify enforcement of clean water regulations on tributaries, providing smaller bodies of water the same protection as larger waterways under the Clean Water Act of 1972.

The CWA regulates navigable waters in this country, meaning waters used for commerce, like the Androscoggin.

And, in the 45 years since it was passed, many of the nation’s waterways have evolved from dumping sites to recreation destinations.

But, the Clean Water Act is unclear on regulations for wetlands, small streams and ditches that feed the larger bodies, so nefarious farmers and ranchers are dumping waste in smaller waters because it’s cheap, and convenient. That waste is then carried into navigable waterways, undoing the progress of improving major water bodies — including drinking water supplies — in many communities.

The 2015 rule was designed to stop polluters who were circumventing the Clean Water Act, not to punish responsible farmers and ranchers.  

But, in recent years rhetoric has taken the place of reason in this country so who really is paying attention to the facts anyway.

We are.

The fact is, the Clean Water Act of 1972 was adopted despite intense opposition from industry leaders who declared it would cripple business. And while the regulations certainly created cost, the overriding benefit has been cleaner water, which has improved public health and boosted economies across the country.

The act was adopted following lengthy debate in Congress, a scrutiny that offered Americans convincing reason for change.

Not so the clean water rule.

The rule, which was jointly proposed by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, was drafted after hearing from more than a million stakeholders, including environmentalists and scientists, but the final language was never publicly debated. It was simply signed into law.

There was no buy-in from the general public. No arousal of a sense of duty like that seen when Maine’s U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie championed the Clean Water Act. And certainly no bipartisan support for its implementation.

Does it make sense to ensure protection of wetlands and streams that flow into larger bodies of water? Absolutely.

Water that flows from a stream can eventually flow into a public water supply, pollutants and all.

But, with the rule stalled in federal court, whatever protections the rule may have offered are on hold.

Tuesday’s executive order, while requiring the EPA to stand down in defense of its rule, also requires the EPA to review the rule to ensure it is clear and that it promotes economic growth.

Clarity is good, and if the goal is to ensure economic growth, there is good reason to believe the revised rule can do that while also protecting the environment — as long as the review is purposeful and not political.

Farmers may not be allowed to dump pollutants into ditches, but the resulting clean water will create jobs for others, including sustaining vibrant tourism economies across the country.

Here’s a real example:

Last year in Ohio, a toxic algae bloom caused by farm runoff hit the south shore of Lake Erie. According to local reports, restaurants and other businesses in Toledo lost between $3 million and $4 million in a single weekend as consumers steered clear.

And that was just one algae bloom of many across the country.

For every golf course owner who wants to dump toxins in a nearby stream, there’s another who understands clean water attracts customers. For every grower who finds it more convenient to dump excess nitrates in a river, there’s a fish farmer who knows the value of clean shores.

There is no question the cost to maintain and regulate clean water is high. But, the cost to permit dirty water is much higher.

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