Defending federal clean water protections

Clean water is a way of life in the South

We are leading the charge to defend national clean water protections that are now under attack. Clean water is fundamental to the South’s way of life. Every day, our families count on clean water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Our farmers depend on clean water. Our local businesses rely on clean water—from our local breweries and restaurants to tourism, fishing, hunting, and outdoor outfitters. The health of our waters, families, and communities are tied together throughout the South.

Attacks on Clean Water Act protections

Despite the fundamental necessity of clean water, industrial polluters and other opponents of strong clean water protections want to limit the reach of the Clean Water Act, which has kept harmful pollution from being dumped into our nation’s waters for 50 years. This national law is a central tool used by state and local governments to protect clean water.  In 2020, the Trump-era EPA and Army Corps of Engineers finalized a rule to severely limit what waters are protected as “Waters of the United States” and remove federal protection from a host of critical upstream waters, tributaries, and millions of acres of wetlands. On October 3, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Sackett v. EPA, a case backed by a coalition of polluters who are asking the court to overturn decades of consistent bipartisan practice and drastically reduce the scope of Clean Water Act protections.

The interests of industrial polluters cannot prevail over our nation’s Clean Water Act or the safety of our families and communities. Without strong federal clean water protections, vital streams, wetlands, lakes, and drinking waters sources–protected for decades by bipartisan practice–will be left open to destruction.

Kelly Moser, senior attorney and leader of SELC’s Clean Water Defense Initiative

Clean water & waterways at risk

Under the Trump administration’s rollback of federal clean water protections,  millions of stream miles, tens of millions of wetland acres, and important recreational lakes and drinking water reservoirs in the United States were excluded from the Clean Water Act’s safeguards. Pollution into upstream waters spells trouble for everyone downstream. In the South, the removal of these protections put at risk the drinking water sources for over 35 million people, or three out of four Southerners.

The rule removed protections from upstream waters and smaller streams that feed our rivers; several public lakes including Lake Keowee, a drinking water reservoir for almost 400,000 people in South Carolina; and from wetlands that protect many Southern communities facing more frequent, intense rain events and flooding with climate change. Under the Trump administration’s rule, the Army Corps of Engineers removed protections from nearly 600 acres of wetlands in the path of the massive Twin Pines Minerals strip mine on the doorstep of the Okefenokee Swamp and from about 200 acres of wetlands that absorb floodwaters in a flood prone area for a large development, Riverport, near the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina. The opponents of clean water in the Sackett v. EPA asked the Supreme Court to narrow the scope of Clean Water Act protections even further, putting ever more streams, wetlands, lakes, and other important waters at risk.

Clean water initiative to preserve water protections

The best way to protect clean water is to stop harmful pollution at its source, before it reaches our streams, wetlands, and drinking water reservoirs. We and our partners, along with citizens across the South, are fighting to preserve longstanding Clean Water Act protections that make dumping toxic pollution into our waters illegal and provide our waterways with all necessary protections to keep them clean and safe for our families and communities who rely on them. 

Following federal court challenges by SELC and others against the prior administration’s rollbacks, the EPA and Army Corps announced plans to replace that destructive rule.  The Biden administration reported to the Supreme Court that it expects to finalize a rule by the end of 2022 to restore longstanding clean water protections.

SELC will continue to fight for the preservation of federal clean water protections that have allowed economic prosperity and environmental protection to go hand in hand over the last 50 years. Together, those of us who love this region we call home will beat back threats to the streams, wetlands, and lakes we hold dear and fight to preserve strong clean water protections.