Environmental Experts Debate the Future of Clean Water in California

Posted Wed, 10/25/2017 - 11:51

USF’s Environmental Law Student and Alumni Society (ELSAS) brought together a panel of experts to address a controversial “repeal and replace” initiative from the Trump Administration on Oct. 18.

The panel, titled “Roiling the Waters: What Does the Trump Administration’s Clean Water Rule Rollback Mean for California?”, focused on the proposed repeal and planned replacement of the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule, which was designed to clarify federal protections for wetlands.

“The panel cast light on the deep philosophical conflicts underlying debates about wetlands,” said ELSAS faculty advisor Professor Alice Kaswan. “How do we balance environmental and agricultural interests? And should control — with all of its environmental and economic implications — rest with the federal government or the states?”

Panelists included UC Hastings College of Law Professor Dave Owen, one of the nation’s preeminent scholars of federal wetlands law and its implementation, Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity and an expert on the interconnections between wetlands protection and endangered species preservation, and Phil Williams, general counsel for the Westlands Water District, who represents agricultural interests. The panel was facilitated by Richard Roos-Collins, principal in the Water and Power Law Group PC.

The panelists explored the environmental values served by wetlands, including flood control, pollution control, and habitat for species, and analyzed how the proposed repeal and replacement could affect these values, especially if the Trump Administration’s suggestion to exclude many western waters and wetlands moves forward.

“The panel explored a deeply controversial and polarizing topic in a rational, respectful manner; a reminder to us all about the value of reasonable compromising,” said Beth Genise 2L. “I look forward to future conversations amongst all parties delving deeper into their individual goals so that we all might be ultimately able to arrive at the best outcome for the future of California.”