Under Trump, EPA Is Letting Cities Dump More Raw Sewage Into Local Waterways

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour/Public Domain


The EPA is allowing more cities to scale back upgrades meant to keep raw sewage from entering rivers during heavy rains.

Under President Donald Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency is making it easier for cities to renegotiate legally binding agreements to cut back or eliminate the amount of raw sewage they dump into waterways, according to The New York Times.

Numerous cities across the country have been working to upgrade aging sewer systems to meet federal regulations that protect local waterways from the release of raw sewage during heavy rains — some since the 1990s — but in Trump, they have found a more sympathetic ear to the massive cost such upgrades entail.

“This trend is yet another example of the administration’s deregulatory agenda threatening our natural resources and public health,” Becky Hammer, deputy director for federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Times. “If cities face genuine cost concerns, there are other methods to maintain affordability while still keeping sewage out of our lakes and rivers.”

Climate change is only worsening the situation, causing more instances of heavy rains in some cities, meaning overflow release of sewage happens more times per year than in the past.

But the EPA appears eager and willing to lend a helping hand by way of trimming back the “agreements that dictate how, and how quickly, cities must overhaul their sewers,” The Times reported.

Under previous administrations, cities could lobby to have their agreements reworked, but Cynthia Giles — who headed the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance under President Obama — said the bar was much higher. For example, a “major unforeseen disaster that made timely compliance too difficult” would be considered in possible renegotiations.

The Obama administration renegotiated 17 such agreements over eight years; by comparison, the Trump administration has renegotiated about a dozen agreements in Trump’s first three years.

To be certain, the cost of upgrades can be astronomical: Washington, D.C., “expects to spend $2.7 billion on three tunnels and related infrastructure, funded through higher water bills,” The Times reported.

Washington is one of several cities currently trying to have their agreements reworked, alongside Cleveland, Ohio; Seattle, Washington; Kansas City, Missouri; South Bend, Indiana; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Louisville, Kentucky; and St. Louis, Missouri, have all had their agreements revamped under Trump.

DC Water in the nation’s capital is hoping to avoid further upgrades by winning new terms from the federal government, but Tommy Wells, director of Washington’s Department of Energy and Environment and chairman of the board of DC Water, told The Times he believes the current plan should move forward.

“It’s our responsibility to the next generation,” he said.

Read the full report.


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