We’re challenging EPA’s gutting of clean water protections in federal court

New EPA rule paves way for destruction of wetlands, small streams

A catarack bog in South Carolina.

UPDATE (7/21/20) — A coalition of outdoor and sporting groups recently supported our lawsuit, filing an amicus brief decrying this rollback of clean water protections. Read more about the filing representing Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Izaak Walton League of America, and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association joined Dale Hall, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service here

“The 2020 WOTUS rule drastically and arbitrarily departs from longstanding law, policy, and science, removing protections for at least half the stream miles and millions of remaining wetland acres in the lower 48 states.”


Today, in federal court, we challenged the Trump administration’s gutting of clean water protections for vast portions of the nation’s streams and wetlands upstream of water sources for 200 million Americans.

“Every family and community across America relies on clean water, but this administration ignored all that just to help large polluters spread contamination across the nation,” says Blan Holman, leader of SELC’s Clean Water Defense Initiative. “This unlawful rule puts the water used by hundreds of millions of Americans for drinking, bathing, and business at risk, as well as countless communities prone to punishing floods and hurricanes.”

The legal challenge, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, opens a major court battle over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ re-definition of what waters are protected under the Clean Water Act, leaving many waterways unprotected, as well as the communities and wildlife that rely on them.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that pollution dumped upstream flows downstream, but the agencies shut their eyes to science and common sense. The law prohibits the agencies from adopting willfully uninformed standards that harm human health and the environment, so we are going to court to challenge this rule and protect clean water.”

—Senior Attorney Blan Holman

The lawsuit contends that the agencies’ wholesale stripping of protections was an unlawful departure 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.

It also asserts the new rule is contrary to the Clean Water Act’s central aim to protect the integrity of America’s waterways and ignores basic science—a point underlined by EPA’s own Science Advisory Board, which warned that the final rule flies in the face of established studies and research.

The rule will result in pollution levels not seen since a bipartisan Congress passed the law in 1972, after state-by-state efforts failed to clean the nation’s waters and rivers burned. And the rule is certain to result in levels of pollution not seen since.

The agencies’ bid to dramatically reduce water protections was met with overwhelming opposition, with the bulk of more than 600,000 comments submitted from across the country opposed to the stripping away the Clean Water Act’s reach.

In this case, SELC is representing American Rivers, Charleston Waterkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment America, 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.

The agencies have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.

Says Holman, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that pollution dumped upstream flows downstream, but the agencies shut their eyes to science and common sense. The law prohibits the agencies from adopting willfully uninformed standards that harm human health and the environment, so we are going to court to challenge this rule and protect clean water.”

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