WOTUS Repeal Cost-Benefit Study Premised on Wetlands Having Zero Value
Washington, DC — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has rigged the cost-benefit study justifying the repeal of an Obama clean water protection in order to reverse the overwhelming weight of evidence that the benefits outweighed its costs, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Pruitt and his political team decided not merely to lower the value of wetlands; they decided that wetlands have no quantifiable value at all and thus there is no benefit in saving them from destruction – a decision reflected in a notice published in today’s Federal Register.
At issue is what should be protected as “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. On February 28, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order telling the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review the 2015 WOTUS rule promulgated under Obama which would slightly increase the extent of protected streams, ponds and wetlands in the U.S. by between approximately 3 to 5 percent.
Potential benefits of expanded WOTUS jurisdiction include flood storage, improved water quality, and enhanced wildlife habitat. In 2015, the estimated annual benefits of this expansion were placed between $313.5 million and $513.2 million, with net benefits of between $129 million and $205 million. In the Pruitt version, every cent of the up to a half-billion dollars in value has completely disappeared.
“Scott Pruitt is not just cooking the books, he is burning the books,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, an attorney and scientist who specialized in wetland protection when she was at EPA. “Wetlands may have no value for Mr. Pruitt but they have a tremendous value to the rest of the planet.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has calendared a hearing this October 11th on allowing WOTUS to go into effect. A quick repeal of WOTUS would likely knock the case off the Court’s docket.
EPA’s new rationale for zeroing out the benefits associated with wetland protection is the “uncertainty” associated with past economic studies of the public’s willingness to pay to retain wetlands. The hastily thrown together Pruitt study says all prior studies should be thrown out “because public attitudes toward nature protection could have changed” – an absurd assertion for which no support was offered.
This sleight of hand has major legal ramifications as it makes Pruitt’s repeal vulnerable to being invalidated under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) for being “arbitrary and capricious.” Not surprisingly, House Republicans are pushing a rider to exempt WOTUS repeal from the APA, altogether.
“By zeroing out all benefits associated with wetland protection, Trump’s EPA ignores both science and economics,” added Bennett. “I had heard of alternative facts but now they want to use alternative math.”
Just as Trump would like to repeal and replace Obamacare, his plan is to repeal and replace WOTUS. The Trump order also directs EPA to pursue a new rule that is “consistent with the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia” in his dissenting opinion in a 2006 case. The Scalia approach would substantially cut the amount of streams, ponds and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act by as much as 90% – a radical surgery amputating the scope of one of America’s fundamental anti-pollution laws.
What We Are Most Proud Of
PEER has been around for more than two decades. Here are seven things we have done that are particularly noteworthy:
- Shut the pathway for lead poisoning for 1.4 million children under age 7 living in 5 million older residential units with lead paint. A PEER lawsuit forced long-overdue rules requiring that all repairs and renovations on these older houses and apartments be conducted in a lead-safe manner.
- Strengthened protections for federal whistleblowers through litigation, such as restoring U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers and negotiating the biggest federal whistleblower settlement. These victories not only created groundbreaking case law but also forced a measure of that most elusive element – accountability.
- Created safeguards for government scientists and the integrity of their research. This work includes not only new legal protections for scientists but our efforts validating their technical work and exposing official acts of scientific fraud and censorship.
- Won important government reforms, such as preventing losses of billions by insulating federal land appraisals from political influence and exposing how the Army Corps of Engineers cooks its books on cost-benefit analyses to falsely justify multi-billion dollar projects. This latter case caused the removal of two generals and a colonel, blocked Congressional authorization of any new navigation projects for six years and framed an issue carrying the shorthand name “Corps Reform.”
- Shielded public lands from abuse by uprooting all genetically modified crops from wildlife refuges, and halting off-road vehicles from destroying national forests, parks, and fragile desert lands.
- Defended wildlife by winning steps to prevent ship-strikes on the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale and harassment of manatees by “swim-with” tourists. PEER is a leader is fighting against the militarization of wildlife management.
- Forced adoption of safeguards for human exposure testing of pesticides and other toxins. This follows our expose of EPA endorsing testing insecticides on toddlers in an infamous experiment it was forced to cancel.