Press Release | March 3, 2023

Conservation groups file to defend rule restoring longstanding federal clean water protections from industry attack

Clearer, more consistent clean water protections for streams, fisheries, and wetlands that
provide habitat and protect communities from storms are at stake

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—On behalf of conservation and outdoor organizations, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky to defend a rule restoring longstanding federal Clean Water Act protections against pollution and destruction of streams, wetlands, and other critical waterways that help supply drinking water and fisheries, and safeguard wildlife and our communities. In the case, the state of Kentucky and industry groups seek to block the science-based rule from taking effect—a move that could deprive the families, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who use and rely on streams, rivers, and wetlands throughout the United States of clear, strong federal clean water protections.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is representing the Kentucky Resources Council, Florida Wildlife Federation, Izaak Walton League of America, Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League of America, National Wildlife Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, South Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Tennessee Wildlife Federation in defending the rule.

“Clean water protections are needed to guard our nation’s waters against pollution so we can all use them for fishing, swimming, and as sources of drinking water,” said Kelly Moser, senior attorney and leader of the Clean Water Defense Initiative at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing the groups in court. “The lakes, streams, and wetlands that this rule protects are essential to the health of families, wildlife, and communities across America.”

Healthy fish and wildlife depend on clean water. Valuable waterways threatened by the industry lawsuit support fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreation, as well as the jobs these activities sustain when millions of Americans head into the field every year. The money that hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts spend supports everything from major manufacturing to small businesses in communities across the country. The economic benefits of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation – which total hundreds of billions of dollars each year – are especially pronounced in rural areas, where money brought in during fishing, hunting, and tourism seasons can keep small businesses operational for the entire year. The outdoor recreation economy supports 7.6 million jobs and $788 billion in consumer spending—and it depends on clean water.

In addition to being vital for fisheries and water quality, wetlands help protect many communities facing more frequent and intense flooding as a result of climate change.

The rule that Kentucky and industry groups are challenging restores longstanding Clean Water Act protections that have been in place for decades through bipartisan practice, which the prior administration’s now-vacated “Navigable Waters Protection Rule” stripped from thousands of stream miles and millions of acres of wetlands, putting American communities and water supplies at risk.

The challenged rule’s protections for streams, wetlands, and lakes—including drinking water sources—reflect 50 years of bipartisan practice and clear science. It is being challenged by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Portland Cement Association, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Associated General Contractors of Kentucky, and Home Builders Association of Kentucky.

Statements from the conservation and outdoor organizations represented by SELC in the case follow.

“For the Izaak Walton League of America, defending longstanding Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands is in our DNA,” said Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America. “The rule follows the law, science, and common sense – and must be upheld. Maintaining these protections is essential for hunting and angling, the $800 billion outdoor recreation economy and public health.”

“Wildlife needs clean water, and hunters and anglers know that without it, there won’t be ducks to hunt or fish to catch,” said Tim Gestwicki, CEO of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. “Folks who love our streams, rivers, and wetlands deserve better, which is why we are fighting for strong, clear national clean water protections in court.”

“The headwater streams, rivers, and wetlands of Kentucky deserve strong, science-based protections from pollution,” said Ashley Wilmes, executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council. “Coal mining, oil and gas development, and other land disturbances have degraded many waterways across the Commonwealth and continue to threaten water quality. If Congress’s objective of restoring the nation’s waters is to be achieved, sound science, not politics, must define the reach of the Clean Water Act.”

“As a nation, we have long understood the value of healthy and abundant water. For the past 40- plus years, our citizens and public policies have recognized that in order to have healthy and abundant water we must fix the problems we have created, namely by reversing the destruction of our country’s streams, rivers, and wetlands,” said Mike Butler, CEO, Tennessee Wildlife Federation. “Healthy and abundant water begins by supporting the new ‘Waters of the United States’ rule, and not allowing misguided efforts to dismantle those clean water protections to prevail.”

“Clean water is a way of life in South Carolina: from our mountain streams, to our rivers and lakes, down to our marshes and coast. We are deeply invested in maintaining our state’s water quality for wildlife and for our members who find joy in the outdoors.” said Sara Green, executive director, South Carolina Wildlife Federation. “We cannot protect our fisheries if the tributaries flowing into their habitat are polluted. We cannot ensure critical wildlife habitat is preserved if our wetlands are destroyed. We are defending strong federal clean water protections because South Carolina’s priceless waterways cannot survive without them.”

“The health of our waters, fish and wildlife habitat, and people and communities downstream, requires our remaining wetlands and headwater streams be protected,” said Matt Norton, secretary of the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League of America. “Restoring the longstanding definition of ‘waters of the United States’ makes that protection possible, so the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League must do its part to defend that definition in court.”

“From the trout streams of the Appalachians to the vast wetlands of the Prairie Potholes, some of our nation’s most precious resources are waters that have long provided opportunities for hunting, fishing, and exploring,” said Jim Murphy, director of legal advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation. “These resources are too valuable to lose to pollution and destruction should federal protections wane. While there is still more to be done to ensure clean water for all, this rule is a critical first step to protect our health and natural heritage, and we stand ready to defend it.”

“From the Everglades to coastal estuaries, from Lake Okeechobee and marshes to crystal-clear spring runs and blackwater swamps, Florida is defined by water. Our waterways provide drinking water, world-renowned fishing, outdoor adventure, wildlife habitat, flood protection, and so much more,” said Sarah Gledhill, president and CEO of Florida Wildlife Federation. “These irreplaceable resources deserve strong, science-based Clean Water Act protections to prevent their pollution and destruction–for the sake of our environment, our economy, and all Floridians.”

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Press Contacts

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: [email protected]