Anglers are obsessed with water. Freshwater, saltwater, moving water, still water; it matters not. We peer from car windows as we speed across bridges, staring down in wonder at even the most unimpressive of trickles. We yearn not only to see water, but to know and explore it, to discover what quarry swims in it. We’re compelled to protect and preserve it, to stand in the way of those that would harm or endanger it. And now more than perhaps any time in a generation, the waters of our United States, which so often preoccupy our minds, face a grave and serious threat.
That threat is Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma Attorney General, who Donald Trump has nominated to be the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Make no mistake, Pruitt doesn’t care about our water. He doesn’t care about our fishing. He doesn’t care about our outdoor heritage. He doesn’t care about our uniquely American conservation success story. Pruitt has spent much of his career working to undermine or nullify protections on waters across our nation and if we anglers stand idly by while Pruitt is confirmed and appointed to lead the EPA, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves for allowing it to happen.
Within moments of the transition of power, the new occupants of the White House declared a war on clean water, making good on a campaign promise that they would seek to undo the Clean Water Rule, a set of guidelines approved in 2014 which clarifies what is and is not protected under the 1972 Clean Water Act. And it does so in the most common sense of ways. Put simply, the Clean Water Rule states the obvious: that what goes up must come down and that protecting the “waters of the United States” means protecting not just our major rivers and lakes, but all of the interconnected waters that feed them.
It may be safe to say that few Americans understand this concept of interconnected waterways better than anglers. We seek out places where rills combine to form brooks and creeks and spill into our streams, because we know that trout like them. We follow our streams to where they meet our rivers, drifting boats down crystalline torrents in search of trophy fish. We follow our rivers to where they near or meet the sea, hoping for char and salmon and other anadromous fish that race up from the impossible blue depths of our oceans. And all along the way we ply waters where aquifers fuel springs that charge our streams with cold, clean water knowing that, in turn, our algae-flecked marshes and wetlands replenish and nourish those aquifers and springs.
But the new administration, preferably with Pruitt at the helm of the EPA, wants to do away with protections on our headwater streams, the “duck factories” that are our wetlands and marshes and so on. They justify these goals with false claims of wide-reaching, blanket government overreach and imagined economic impacts that stunt job creation.
Scott Pruitt may be the perfect choice to lead this assault on the waters that course through our fisheries. Pruitt has made a career out of waging war on clean water, siding with industry and big business instead of anglers and other Americans. Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times while serving as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. In 13 of those 14 cases, the co-parties on Pruitt’s lawsuits were campaign donors or donors of Pruitt-supporting PACs. During his tenure as Attorney General, Pruitt also repeatedly undermined clean water protections by stalling court cases or flat out refusing to enforce regulations, choosing instead to allow the poultry industry to flood Oklahoma’s waters with phosphorus pollution. And those poultry companies that benefitted from Pruitt’s delays? You guessed it: also Pruitt campaign donors.
Pruitt has made it clear that his allegiances are not with the people of Oklahoma or of the rest of the nation, but with the corporations that fund his campaigns and that profit from decreased protections of our waters.
In fact, until now, Pruitt was best known for being the star of an embarrassing investigative report that revealed that he sent letters to numerous governmental agencies, including the EPA, the Department of Interior and the Office of Management and Budget, that were written not by Pruitt himself but by lawyers or lobbyists working for oil and gas companies. But, if we stand silent while Pruitt is confirmed as head of the EPA, his greatest claim to fame may come to be not that shameful report but the wholesale dismantling of protections that keep the waters we anglers obsess over—the rivers and streams where we chase our passions and pass them onto our children and grandchildren—safe from those who seek to profit from their destruction.
But we anglers won’t be fooled. We won’t be led by false and baseless claims that suggest that keeping our streams and rivers clean means losing jobs. We won’t be scared by ridiculous tales that tell us that the agency that has worked tirelessly for more than 40 years to protect our waters has a hidden agenda to rob everyday Americans of their personal property rights. We see through this administration’s agenda to undermine the laws that protect our fisheries and we reject Scott Pruitt and his appointment to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.