News | March 15, 2017

SELC, partners file U.S. Supreme Court brief to defend Clean Water Rule

Today SELC filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court urging the nation’s highest court to follow through on its plans to hear the upcoming case on the Clean Water Rule, a landmark rule safeguarding streams, wetlands, and other waters that feed drinking water sources for nearly 20 million people in the Southeast. If granted, the judicial review requested in the brief would stop the Trump Administration’s improper executive order from derailing a case that affects the health and safety of millions of Southerners.

The brief was filed by SELC on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League and One Hundred Miles, jointly with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation.

President Trump’s executive order on the Clean Water Rule threatens the health and safety of Southern communities,” said Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker. “We won’t stand by while the administration illegally attempts to undermine the judicial process and this important rule. The administration’s executive order is a kickback to polluters at the expense of people and it turns back the clock 45 years to a time when companies could subject our wetlands, streams, and rivers to unchecked pollution.

The 2015 Clean Water Rule, the result of a multi-year public process of stakeholder input, clarifies the bodies of water protected by the Clean Water Act. The definitions it provides clearly restore longstanding and crucial safeguards to an estimated 60 percent of our nation’s stream miles and to millions of acres of important wetlands. Without the protections outlined in the Clean Water Rule, it would be easier for factories, sewage treatment facilities, and other polluters to directly dump into these waterways. Such pollution threatens drinking water supplies for communities across the South.

Since its release, the Clean Water Rule has been targeted in court by multiple states and industries that are eager to limit the scope and power of Clean Water Act protections, regardless of what that means for communities. Many of these suits were consolidated in the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and that court was in the middle of the briefing on the merits of the Clean Water Rule, when the administration changed hands and reversed course. With disputes over whether the District Court or Circuit Court should hear these cases, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take up the question of which court should hear this challenge. But the Trump administration filed a motion to indefinitely put a hold on the Supreme Court review, as well as the 6th Circuit’s, while it attempts to scrap the Clean Water Rule and start the lengthy rule-making process again from scratch.

SELC’s brief filed today counters the administration’s argument and asks the Supreme Court to move forward with the case. The filing argues that the executive order, the grounds for the Trump administration’s motion, cannot dictate the outcome of the rulemaking process before it even begins. The executive order improperly directs the agency to consider using an overly narrow definition of waters subject to the Clean Water Act that would dramatically limit its important protections.