Group calls out attorney general Cynthia Coffman for delaying new clean water protections in Colorado

Environment Colorado

FORT COLLINS, CO– Thousands of streams and wetlands in Colorado will remain temporarily unprotected by a new federal rule, due to legal maneuverings by attorney general Cynthia Coffman.  While the Obama administration’s new Clean Water Rule goes into effect in most states today, attorney general Cynthia Coffman persuaded a North Dakota judge to block the new protections in Colorado pending the outcome of her lawsuit against them.

“As the clean water rule goes into effect today, waters from California to Maine once again have the protection of the Clean Water Act,” explained Vivian Nguyen, field organizer with Environment Colorado.   “But here in Colorado– where so many people spend their summers rafting, kayaking or fishing on our rivers – attorney general Coffman has short-circuited these protections for now. This move is particularly outrageous in light of the Animas River spill. We should be doing everything we can to enhance protections for our state waters, not degrade them.” 

Next Tuesday, Environment Colorado will release a new Summer Fun Index report showing just how many people in Colorado enjoy clean water for swimming, boating and other summer activities.

Addressing a loophole created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, the Clean Water Rule restores protections to streams that feed drinking water supplies for 117 million Americans. Millions of acres of wetlands, vital for flood control and filtering pollutants, are also again shielded under federal law.

The court rulings had put small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands including 68% of streams in Colorado in a perilous legal limbo. This allowed polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without any federal oversight. In a four-year period following the decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop more than 1500 investigations against polluters, according to one analysis by The New York Times

The Clean Water Rule, adopted in May following a decade-long push by Environment Colorado and others, ensures that such pollution cases can be prosecuted. On the front end, federal officials can now protect these waters with enforceable limits on pollution.

The joint rule by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backed by robust scientific review and has gained broad support across a wide range of constituencies. More than 1,000 mayors, brewers, kayakers, anglers, small businesses, and farmers have joined a throng of citizens to submit more than 800,000 comments and register support for the rule. 

A May Hart Research Associates poll showed that 80 percent of American voters surveyed across party lines favored the Clean Water Rule. 

Despite broad public support for restored clean water protections to places like the Colorado River, oil and gas companies, developers, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them. The U.S. House and key Senate committees have passed multiple bills to block or severely weaken the rule. 

Major water polluters, from coal company Murray Energy, to road-builders and developers, to manufacturers have also filed suit against the rule.

But the Obama administration and clean water advocates are confident that the Clean Water Rule will survive challenges in both Congress and the courts.

The Clean Water Rule is on solid ground, legally, scientifically, and politically,” said Nguyen. “We are confident that attorney general Coffman’s lawsuit will ultimately be dismissed. It’s just a shame that Coloradans will have to wait longer for cleaner water.”


Environment Colorado is the statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organizations working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.