Conservation Groups Challenge Attack on Clean Water in Federal Court

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Conservation groups today challenged in court 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. The legal challenge, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, opens a major court battle over EPA 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. The suspension of standards is the first of several steps announced by the administration to repeal long-standing clean water protections.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed today’s challenge 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.

“Clean water is a way of life we take for granted in this nation thanks to bipartisan laws passed almost 50 years ago, but large polluters now want to dismantle all our protections,” said Blan Holman, a managing attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center which is representing the coalition in court. “The administration is pretending that pollution dumped upstream doesn’t flow downstream, but its plan puts the water used by hundreds of millions of Americans for drinking, bathing, cooking, and recreation at risk. We are going to court to protect clean water across the country.”

“By delaying the Clean Water Rule, the Trump administration is making clear that it has no intention of protecting our rivers, wetlands and clean water,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers. “Without the Clean Water Rule’s critical protections, innumerable small streams and wetlands that are essential for drinking water supplies, flood protection, and fish and wildlife habitat will be vulnerable to unregulated pollution, dredging and filling.”
 
The lawsuit contends that EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated long-standing law that prohibits agencies from altering basic environmental safeguards without giving the public notice and a chance to weigh in. According to the lawsuit, 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 streams and wetlands.

"The Trump administration's attempt to roll back federal protections for some of the most sensitive wetlands and streams is irresponsible," said Bob Dreher, senior vice president for conservation programs, Defenders of Wildlife. "All endangered species, from grizzlies in Montana to panthers in Florida, depend upon drinking water for survival. This action will prioritize industry over communities and wildlife and put both at unnecessary risk."

The agencies have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.

"It’s long past time when Congress intended for all of our waters to be fishable, swimmable, and drinkable ─ the Trump administration's decision will make it impossible to achieve that goal," said Jennifer Peters, Clean Water Action's National Water Programs Director. "We're fighting to ensure the interests of polluters are not put before the interests of everyday people who expect strong Clean Water Act protections for their drinking water sources.”

“We depend on clean water to live, work and play here along the North Carolina coast,” said Todd Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “With this action, we hope to defend reasonable and prudent regulatory safeguards that are vital to our healthy coastal economy and environment.”

“This rule is a rushed political decision that should be based on science, like the Clean Water Rule is,” said Tim Gestwicki, chief executive officer, North Carolina Wildlife Federation. “Wildlife need clean water and hunters and anglers know that without it, there won’t be ducks to hunt or fish to catch. Folks who love our streams, rivers, and wetlands deserve better.”

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For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org