Clean Water Rule goes into effect in the Southeast

The Clean Water Rule provides greater clarity on protections for wetlands and streams that are crucial to the health of downstream waters. (© iStock)

EPA officials are pressing ahead with plans for the Clean Water Rule, the most significant piece of federal action on water protection in decades, which goes into effect today. While legal challenges angle to derail its implementation, SELC is working to defend and strengthen this important rule that clarifies protections for streams, wetlands, and other waters that feed the drinking water sources for nearly 20 million people in SELC’s six state region.

Last night, an eleventh-hour ruling from a North Dakota district court to delay the rule leaves many legal questions unanswered about the rule’s fate. Despite the ruling, EPA has stated that it will move forward in implementing the Clean Water Rule for the rest of the country. 

Within days after EPA and the Corps issued the final Clean Water Rule in June, 29 states and several industry groups filed lawsuits across the country attempting to overturn the rule entirely. Many of the parties challenging the rule asked the courts to grant preliminary injunctions, which would block the rule from taking effect on August 28.

SELC and the Natural Resources Defense Council moved to intervene in the Georgia case on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, One Hundred Miles, and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League to safeguard the rule against attacks that could leave important waters vulnerable to contamination and pollution.

Out of 10 federal district courts in which 12 separate challenges to the rule have been filed, the final rulings from three of the courts--Georgia, North Dakota, and West Virginia--were issued this week.  Two of the three courts, Georgia and West Virginia, concluded that they did not have jurisdiction to hear the challenges and declined to block the rule on this basis.

The U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota granted the states’ request to delay the rule late yesterday. The states involved in the North Dakota case--Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming—will follow the previous rule.

SELC and our partners are reviewing the decision and assessing next steps, acknowledging that this short-term delay does not detract from the need for this vital rulemaking and its guaranteed protections for important waters that are supported by science. 

“Generally a strong rule, the Clean Water Rule is a critical step forward in protecting our lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands,” said Bill Sapp, Senior Attorney for SELC. “Despite the delay in extending these crucial safeguards to waters nationwide, we will continue to work to keep the Clean Water Rule in place for the health and well-being of our families and communities, our prosperous fisheries and tourism industries.”

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