Obama Admin’s EPA Issues Rule To Protect 4,000 Miles of New Jersey Streams

Media Contacts

Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center

Trenton – More than 4,000 miles of New Jersey’s streams, including those feeding the Delaware and the Jersey Shore, will gain federal protections under a final rule signed today by top Obama administration officials. The measure restores Clean Water Act safeguards to small streams and headwaters and wetlands that have been vulnerable to development and pollution for nearly ten years.

“From the Delaware to the D & R Canal, the waters that provide our drinking water can only be clean if the streams that flow into it are protected,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “That’s why today’s action is a huge victory for clean water.” 

By closing a loophole created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, today’s rule returns Clean Water Act protections to streams that feed the drinking water sources for more than 4 million New Jerseyans and one in three Americans. Millions of acres of wetlands, vital for flood control and filtering pollutants, will also again be shielded under federal law.

“For decades, the Clean Water Act has been a cornerstone of U.S. environmental protections—ensuring that millions of Americans have access to safe drinking water, pollution-free places for swimming, fishing, and hunting and reliable water sources for business operations and agriculture.  Unfortunately, these safeguards have been jeopardized by several conflicting court rulings that created confusion for businesses and made it difficult to go after polluters,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

“I’ve heard from thousands of my constituents about the need to restore these protections—and I’m pleased to see the Administration has done just that.  This rule will make clear which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act while maintaining appropriate exemptions for agriculture and creating greater certainty for business.  I strongly support the Administration’s proposal and will continue fighting to preserve clean water for New Jerseyans and all Americans for generations to come.”

The court rulings had put small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands in a perilous legal limbo, allowing polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without a permit. In a four-year period following the decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop more than 1,500 cases against polluters, according to one analysis by The New York Times.

First proposed in March 2014, 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. Mayors, brewers, kayakers, anglers, small businesses, and farmers have signaled their support.  New Jerseyans joined Americans across the country to submit 800,000 comments in favor of the rule last fall.

Environment New Jersey, Clean Water Action, Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association, the New Jersey Sierra Club and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network in conjunction with local farmers and businesses are holding a town hall meeting on the EPA Clean Water Rule tonight in Pennington and released a video – produced by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network – outlining public support for the rule.

“The Raritan, the Passaic, the Hackensack, the Delaware, the Hudson and Barnegat Bay – these water bodies define New Jersey. But they rely on a network of streams and wetlands that have been at risk for nearly 10 years. We are so thrilled that the Obama administration has finalized the Clean Water Rule and ensured that New Jersey’s vital streams and wetlands are once again protected,” said Dave Pringle, campaign director for Clean Water Action. 

New Jersey’s environmental advocates are among those pushing for restored stream protections for the better part of the last decade, gathered more than 70,000 comments from New Jerseyans and held more than 150,000 face-to-face conversations about the need to close the loophole in the Clean Water Act in the last year alone.

“We applaud the Obama Administration for proposing a new rule that will help protect important waterways, wetlands, and drinking water for the American people. This rule closes loopholes and ends different interpretations on how to protect clean water under the Clean Water Act. These are called ‘Waters Of The United States’ because they belong to all of US. They do not belong to developers, agribusiness, or polluters. They belong to the people of this country. The same politicians in Washington that want to drill in the Arctic, drill off of coast, prevent action on reducing greenhouse gases and deny climate change, are now trying to deny us clean water. This rule will help protect habitat, species, and fisheries, as well as prevent flooding and provide clean drinking water. We are supporting the rule and will fight with those in Congress with a dirty water agenda that will take the side of polluters and try to stop this rule from going forward. When Woody Guthrie said this land is your land, he also included the waters. Waters belong to all of us,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. 

Despite broad public support for restored clean water protections, oil and gas companies, developers, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them. The U.S. House has passed multiple bills to block or severely weaken the rule, including one measure as recently as two weeks ago.

“We welcome EPA’s adoption of rules that provide clarity and consistency to the implementation of the Clean Water Act.  The rule will help improve protections for water resources that are vital to a healthy environment and to the health of our state and the nation,” said Mike Pisauro, policy director for the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association, which is hosting tonight’s town hall meeting.

While today’s action signaled the final chapter in the decade-long fight for small streams and headwaters, advocates warned today that U.S. Senate leaders were more determined than ever to use their authority derail the Clean Water Rule. Last Tuesday, a key subcommittee adopted a measure by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to thwart the rule. This summer, the Senate is likely to use the Congressional Review Act block the clean water protections, setting up a veto fight with the president.

“Every one of the 216 waterways that feed the Delaware River Basin in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, first begins as a series of many tiny creeks and streams or wetlands that bubble-up out of the ground or flow down a mountain side.  But it is precisely those small waterways, vernal pools and wetlands that are not adequately protected and, in fact, are often filled, paved-over and piped underground for one form of development or another.  EPA’s proposed Clean Water Act Rules will help better protect these critically important waterways for the humans and wildlife that depend on them,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.