Op-Ed: Trump’s attack on clean water is bad politics in the Midwest

The Trump administration is at it again. While Americans are focused on dealing with COVID-19 pandemic challenges and stresses, the Trump EPA used that distraction as cover to issue its replacement of important federal clean water protection standards. This misguided action rolls back regulatory standards designed to protect community rivers, creeks, streams and wetlands that provide safe clean drinking water, essential wildlife and fish habitat, and recreational use and enjoyment for many people.

Late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley famously once said, “Good government is good politics.” President Trump must have missed that lesson. This is both bad government and bad politics.

Bad government policy: The 2015 Clean Water Rule was directed at reducing the risk of catastrophic flooding by protecting wetlands that serve as buffers. Wetlands absorb rainfall and snowmelt that could otherwise make rivers more swollen and flood adjacent communities, farms and wildlife habitats. The Trump administration’s rollback ignores controlling legal precedent and sound science to narrow the types of waterways protected under the Clean Water Act.

Why should we care about weakened environmental regulations that affect smaller and even seasonal streams and creeks that might be dry for part of the year? Because our water resources are interconnected. To protect the Midwest’s great waterways – including the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River – it helps to also protect the community creeks, brooks and tributary streams that can feed them, and that provide fishing and other outdoor recreation opportunities. And, it also helps to protect wetlands that store and filter water and provide important wildlife habitat.

Bad politics: The Trump EPA’s rollback misses the boat politically. Michigan and other Midwestern swing voters care about safe, clean drinking water in ways that rise above partisan divisions. The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) commissioned nationally recognized pollster Ann Selzer to conduct focus groups of 2016 Trump voters across the Midwest, including the Grand Rapids area and Detroit “exurbs.” The big takeaway: clean water was their top environmental priority. Midwesterners are concerned about threats to their drinking water supply, and they’re protective of the Great Lakes and their local waterways.

Selzer’s recent polling research for the ELPC Action Fund found that 89% of the 601 registered voters polled in Southwest Wisconsin said safe clean drinking water is the most important issue to them. Southwest Wisconsin is a key swing area in the November 2020 election, and clean water polled higher there than infrastructure, health care, education, and agriculture.

Another Selzer poll for ELPC in Northwest Ohio found registered voters there said safe clean water was their number one environmental concern.

The message is clear: it’s bad politics to mess with safe, clean water if you want to win Midwesterners’ votes in November.

The Great Lakes is where we live, work and play. President Trump’s funding cutbacks to the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative were rejected three times by Congress on a bipartisan basis. The Trump administration’s proposal to cut 90% of the size of the popular Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron by Alpena has been rejected by Michigan Republicans and Democrats as bad for the local economy and bad for the environment.

President Trump’s attacks on safe clean water are just plain wrong. It’s bad government and bad politics. The Michigan and Midwest public deserves better.

This opinion editorial was originally published in MLive on May 13, 2020.

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