Environment America, allies challenge dirty water rule in court

Gutting of clean water protections puts Americans at risk, is contrary to science and the law
For Immediate Release.

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Environment America and several conservation groups filed in federal court on Wednesday to overturn the Trump administration’s Dirty Water Rule. That recently enacted rule revoked clean water protections for wetlands and streams that help provide drinking water for millions of Americans. The groups’ legal challenge, in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, opens a major court battle against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ drastic weakening of the Clean Water Act. 

“As surely as water flows downstream, the Dirty Water Rule endangers the waterways where millions of Americans swim, fish, boat, and draw our drinking water,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney and clean water program director for Environment America. “Moreover, the rule violates the Clean Water Act itself, as we noted in our comments to the EPA. The Dirty Water Rule defies common sense, sound science and the law.”

From the Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound, streams and wetlands are crucial to the health of our nation’s most iconic waterways. Wetlands filter out pollutants, provide wildlife habitat, and protect communities by absorbing floodwaters. If streams are polluted, that pollution can flow into larger rivers and our drinking water. Yet the Dirty Water Rule wipes out protections for countless streams and wetlands -- a move that was recently rebuked by EPA’s own science advisors.  

“Every family and community across America relies on clean water, but these agencies ignored all that to facilitate unlimited water pollution across the nation,” said Blan Holman, senior attorney and leader of the Clean Water Defense Initiative at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing the conservation groups in court.

The lawsuit contends that the federal agencies’ wholesale stripping of protections unlawfully departs from decades of bipartisan practice. Among other things, the agencies failed to explain or evaluate the impact of their actions on the nation’s water quality or give Americans a meaningful opportunity to comment on the elimination of scientifically-based protections for streams and wetlands. The rule also ignores the intent of the Clean Water Act, which a bipartisan Congress passed in 1972 because state-by-state efforts to clean the nation’s waters failed. 

Public support for maintaining Clean Water Act protections is widespread. More than one million Americans -- including business owners, local officials, scientists, hunters and anglers -- have provided comments to the EPA, urging the agency to protect streams and wetlands under the Act. 

In contrast, lobbyists for corporate agribusiness, developers, and the oil and gas industry have long demanded that federal protections be removed for streams and wetlands. Pollution from agribusinesses contributes to toxic algal outbreaks, fish kills, dead zones, drinking water contamination and fecal bacteria that can make swimmers sick. Some developers are eager to build on wetlands and the oil and gas industry has countless pipelines running through them.

“Clean water is vital for our health, our way of life, and for nature itself,” said Rumpler.  “We will not rest until protections for America’s waterways are restored.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed today’s challenge on behalf of Environment America, American Rivers, Charleston Waterkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Rappahannock, James River Association, National Wildlife Federation, North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Roanoke River Basin Association and South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.