Federal judge strikes down administration’s Clean Water Act attack

A federal judge in South Carolina today struck down the administration’s effort to strip away crucial clean water protections from rivers, lakes, streams, and other waters that feed drinking-water sources for nearly 20 million people in the South and 117 million people across the country. Today’s decision follows a legal challenge filed by SELC in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina located in Charleston. The ruling ends the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ suspension of clean water protections under the Clean Water Act, one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, and puts the Clean Water Rule back in effect for more than half of the country. The ruling does not apply to 24 states where other legal challenges are pending.

This is a victory for families and communities across America who depend on clean water, and a rebuke to the polluting industries trying to gut this nation’s bedrock health and environmental safeguards,” said Senior Attorney Geoff Gisler, who is representing the coalition of conservation groups before the court. “Water is a way of life in the South, where clean water is the lifeblood of our economy. We are thrilled the court rejected this administration’s blatant attempts to undermine safeguards that are critical to our nation’s welfare without being accountable to the American people.”

SELC filed the initial challenge in February on behalf of American Rivers, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Charleston Waterkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Coastal Conservation League, Friends of the Rappahannock, North Carolina Coastal Federation, and North Carolina Wildlife Federation.

Their lawsuit contended that EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated fundamental laws that prohibit agencies from removing basic environmental safeguards without telling the public what they are doing, revealing the impact of those changes, and giving the public a chance to weigh in. The court held that the agencies refusal to allow meaningful public comment doomed the rule, stating that “An illusory opportunity to comment is no opportunity at all.” The agencies failed at their most basic responsibilities: evaluating the effect of their reckless actions and allowing the public to comment on their decision to eliminate scientifically backed protections for rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.

Finalized after 200 days of public comment and review of 1,200 studies, the Clean Water Rule used science to draw clear lines about what American waters are protected from pollution by the Clean Water Act. It replaced a confusing, case-by-case regime with clearer protection for critical waters such as small streams that flow into our rivers and lakes, wetlands that shelter wildlife, and uniquely southern wetlands such as pocosins and Carolina Bays.  

The administration's suspension of standards under the Clean Water Act was the first of several steps the administration plans to take to repeal long-standing clean water protections, which could strip away safeguards from wetlands, rivers, lakes, and drinking water sources that our families and communities use. Learn more about these efforts at ProtectSouthernWater.org.

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