EPA Curbs Oregon’s Ability to Protect Clean Water


Oregon DEQ speaks out against a new federal rule that guts the Clean Water Act, reducing how water bodies are protected by federal regulations

PORTLAND – As of Monday, June 22, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has put a new federal rule into effect regarding Waters of the United States (WOTUS) that curbs the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s ability to protect clean water for people in Oregon. DEQ described its opposition to the proposed rollback back in an October article.

As stated in DEQ’s response to this rule, this is a direct assault on the federal Clean Water Act, one of the most successful environmental laws ever passed by Congress. As such it is also an assault on the public health of Oregonians and people across the U.S. who depend on their states to enforce clean water regulations.

For five decades, states have been working within the Clean Water Act to reduce the amount of pollution flowing into our waters. Rolling back this legislation under the guise of ‘efficiency’ will endanger our drinking water, fish habitat, recreation areas and more.

DEQ has joined other states in taking all available steps to prevent this new rule from taking effect and eroding the health of our people and our environment. DEQ understands that the impacts of this and other environmental rollbacks by this administration do not affect us all equally, but will disproportionately affect people of color and low income communities. It is environmental injustice. However, despite the change, states and tribes still maintain broad authority to protect the natural resources that fall within their jurisdictions.

Even with the federal changes to WOTUS, state laws and rules remain unchanged. For example, under Oregon law, no person may discharge pollutants or wastes to waters of the state in a manner that would result in violations of state water quality standards, regardless of federal authority.

The new WOTUS definition would impact DEQ’s 401 Water Quality Certification process, which provides DEQ the opportunity to ensure that a project impacting wetlands and waterways will comply with all relevant state water quality standards and other relevant state laws. Without a federal permit, DEQ must look to existing state law and rules to ensure protection of state water quality for these projects.

DEQ works with Oregon Department of State Lands and other state agencies to implement regulations to protect water quality in waters of the state. The new WOTUS definition will not change implementation of DSL’s Removal-Fill permit program for waters of the state, and DEQ remains committed to working with DSL and Removal-Fill applicants to ensure water quality standards are met.

In October 2018, Governor Kate Brown passed the Oregon Environmental Protection Act in response to the environmental rollbacks that were taking shape. At that time, Governor Brown said in her press release, “Over the past two years Oregonians have witnessed an unprecedented and aggressive attack on clean air standards, clean water standards, and federal efforts to fight climate change. In Oregon, that rollback stops now. Under my leadership, Oregon will stand for clean air and clean water, and we will defend the health of our children and our children’s children.”

DEQ is evaluating the scope and impact of federal changes on existing environmental protections for Oregon’s waters, including the Oregon Environmental Protection Act. Over the next several months, staff in DEQ’s water quality program will work with the Environmental Quality Commission to identify the best way to ensure continued protection of Oregon’s waters.

Water resources and development opportunities vary greatly from region to region across the state, and DEQ shall consider and respect regional differences in potential impacts. DEQ is committed to playing a part in ensuring long-term availability of clean water for our people, our economy, and our environment.

About Author

Jennifer Flynt is the Chief Public Affairs Officer for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

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