This year has been a whirlwind for the water industry. From the Flint, Mich., lead contamination crisis to record flooding on the East Coast to the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, water issues were top-of-mind for much of 2016. Capped off by a contentious presidential election, this year will go down as one of the most significant in determining the future of our country and our industry.
Personal political leanings aside, there are a few facts we can pull from the new president-elect’s proposed policies.
President-elect Donald Trump has indicated a desire to reduce the role of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), claiming its regulations are detrimental to businesses. In an online video posted Nov. 20, which outlined some of his plans for his first 100 days in office, Trump vowed to cut back on regulations, stating, “for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.” It’s not clear, however, whether the regulations in question are EPA-specific.
Having attended a number of storm water conferences this year, one major takeaway I’ve found is that environmental regulations are both a blessing and a curse. While conflicts over the Waters of the U.S. rule and other federal, state and local pollution control measures continue to pervade the industry, I think most of us can agree that regulation is a necessity for public health and protection of natural resources. It will be interesting to see what, if any, changes are made in environmental policy in the coming years.
This may be further complicated by the new administration’s take on the climate. As of this writing, Trump’s position on climate change has softened a bit from his campaign. After calling climate change a hoax and campaigning on promises to pull the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate, he modified his position in a Nov. 22 meeting with the New York Times. At that meeting, he cited “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change, and said he has an “open mind” about the Paris Agreement. Still, he has looked to a well-known climate change denier to guide the EPA transition.
No matter your feelings on the topic, there is no disputing that 2016 has seen an increase in severe and frequent extreme weather events. According to NASA, the first six months of the year were the warmest on record since 1880. Drought ravaged Southern California and other southern states, while historic flooding hit places like Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina. The climate is changing whether we like it or not, and we should be prepared to deal with the effects.
Other water issues at stake include infrastructure funding and cybersecurity, both of which Trump has promised to tackle head on to protect and rebuild existing assets and pave the way for new water and wastewater assets.
The future of our country and our industry rests largely on the events of 2016. And what a year it has been.