YARMOUTH – The morality of any society can be judged by how it cares for its people and how it cares for God’s gift of creation. The Clean Water Rule, put forward by President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency in 2015, provided long-sought clarity about the application of the Federal Clean Water Act.

The rule more clearly defined what kinds of waters get guaranteed protection and which ones are exempt. It said that pollution in a tributary needs to be regulated in the same way as pollution in a river.

In Maine, when the Clean Water Rule was put in place, protections were restored to 1,264 miles of streams that feed into drinking water sources. In addition, thousands of acres of wetlands that provide flood protection, recharge groundwater supplies, filter pollution and provide essential wildlife habitat were safeguarded.

The water bodies at the center of the Clean Water Rule serve critical functions. Notably, more than 117 million Americans get drinking water from public systems that draw supply from streams. Wetlands cover roughly 110 million acres in the continental U.S., which filter pollution from contaminated runoff and replenish groundwater.

The Clean Water Rule is the perfect example of how protecting God’s creation ensures that human health is safeguarded. It is no surprise that almost 80 percent of Americans support this common-sense rule and want the EPA to implement it.

For those water bodies which are protected by the Clean Water Rule, it requires that:

Wastewater dischargers and sewage plants may not dump into such waters without pollution-limiting permits;

Facilities storing significant amounts of oil near covered waters must develop oil spill prevention and response plans;

States must identify and prepare plans to clean up protected waters that don’t meet state water quality standards;

Industrial and commercial developers ordinarily must obtain approval before discharging solid material into protected waters, destroying valuable wetlands and degrading lakes and streams, and these dischargers sometimes must mitigate their impact by creating, preserving, or enhancing other water resources;

Nobody may discharge “any radiological, chemical, or biological warfare agent, any high-level radioactive waste, or any medical waste” into covered waters; and

Entities disposing sewage sludge that could pollute such waters must abide by pollution control standards.

In Maine we are blessed with an abundance of water: wetlands, ocean and lakes. As articulated recently by Pope Francis, clean water is a basic human necessity and a gift God has given to humanity to safeguard.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is moving to repeal the Clean Water Rule, which protects the drinking water for one-third of all Americans. Despite the EPA finalizing the rule in 2017 after more than 400 stakeholder meetings, 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific publications and more than a million public comments, the EPA is now working to dismantle its own good work to protect clean water.

The president and his backers have proposed historically deep cuts to cornerstone environmental justice programs and the stripping of grant dollars dedicated to ensuring safe water to drink and clean air to breathe, all while children suffer from more asthma, families are exposed to more toxic chemicals, and neighborhoods deal with higher levels of contaminated water.

As a religious leader, I believe it is incumbent upon us to ensure clean water for our families, our communities, wildlife and our environment.

The Bible calls us to protect the most vulnerable and to love our neighbor. Low-income communities are disproportionately subjected to contaminated drinking water supplies. Water is considered a fundamental human need, but many communities lack safe drinking water, their citizens swim near waste-contaminated beaches and live near polluted floodwaters.

Doing everything we can to provide clean water protects Maine families, honors God and cares for our neighbors. We are stewards of God’s earth and must protect the gift of water, not only for ourselves, but for those who are vulnerable and for generations to come.

I urge the EPA to reverse course on this ill-conceived repeal of the Clean Water Rule and for our elected officials in Maine to speak out on the importance of protecting Maine’s drinking wat

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