Biden administration announcement leaves crucial waters in jeopardy

Lakes and streams popular for fishing and boating are among those currently unprotected.   (© Matt Eich)

The EPA announced it plans to repeal and replace a harmful, destructive rule by the prior administration that removed federal pollution protections under the Clean Water Act and invited destruction of streams, wetlands, and lakes. The action by the Environmental Protection Agency recognizes the significant problems with the current rule, but does not immediately reverse it.

Every day the rule remains in place means that more streams, wetlands, lakes, and drinking water sources—protected under every other administration—can be destroyed.”

—Senior Attorney Kelly Moser, leader of SELC's Clean Water Defense Initiative

The so-called “Navigable Waters Protection Rule” removed safeguards in place for several public lakes including Lake Keowee, a drinking water reservoir for almost 400,000 people in South Carolina. It also abandoned protections for many wetlands that often protect Southern communities facing increased, more intense rain events and flooding with climate change.

“No administration can allow the interests of industrial polluters to trump the sole objective of the Clean Water Act: to restore and maintain the integrity of our nation’s waters, so that they are safe for fishing, swimming, and as sources of drinking water for our families and communities,” said Kelly Moser, senior attorney and leader of SELC’s Clean Water Defense Initiative. “The Biden administration must act quickly to restore clean water protections because the current rule lets developers, industry, or anyone else pollute, fill, or pave over these waters without a federal permit. Every day the rule remains in place means that more streams, wetlands, lakes, and drinking water sources—protected under every other administration—can be destroyed. The administration must make this a priority, and we will hold their feet to the fire.”

The prior administration stripped protections under the Clean Water Act from countless streams, lakes and wetlands, leaving thousands of stream miles, many public recreational lakes, and millions of acres of wetlands without protections that have been in place for decades and putting our communities and water supplies at risk.

Since the prior administration’s rule took effect in June 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has allowed thousands of wetlands and other waterways to be destroyed by industry. Among those projects are two recently revised jurisdictional determinations that removed protections from about 400 acres of wetlands for a massive mine on the doorstep of the Okefenokee Swamp and from about 200 acres of wetlands that absorb floodwaters in a flood prone area for a large development near the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina.

SELC’s challenge to the unlawful roll back of federal clean water protections filed on behalf of several conservation groups is pending before the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

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