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US Environmental Groups Sue To Safeguard Clean Water Protection Legislation

WASHINGTON DC, United States

A coalition of eight US environmental groups, led by the the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), filed a lawsuit 29 April in the District Court of Massachusetts to block the Trump administration’s new “Navigable Waters Protection Rule”, which undercuts the country's existing "Clean Water Act".

The new rule, published 21 April, eliminates clean water protections enshrined in the landmark Clean Water Act that have prevented unchecked pollution from entering waterways and drinking water sources for almost 50 years. New redefinitions, which have been defended by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). remove limits on the amount of pollution that can be dumped into small streams and wetlands.

The changes to water protection measures will enable pollution from farming, mining, manufacturing and energy production to leach into water bodies. (OOSKAnews).

The complainants are challenging the regulation on the basis that it ignores the large body of scientific evidence that demonstrates the ways in which wetlands and rain-dependent streams significantly affect the health of larger water bodies. The new lawsuit claims that the new regulation illegally denies federal protection to streams and wetlands, even though the Clean Water Act is supposed to protect water quality.

In fact, previously, USEPA’s own independent science advisory board has commented that “aspects of the proposed rule are in conflict with established science... and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.” (OOSKAnews).

Participants in the lawsuit include groups from New Mexico, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

On the same day, a second lawsuit was filed in the federal district court in South Carolina. That action, with more than a dozen complainants, claims that the USEPA and USACE “neglected fundamental rulemaking requirement meant to constrain whimsical agency action.” (Desert Sun)

USEPA and USACE claim that the new rule maintains federal authority over the nation's waters while preserving the states' primary authority over land and water resources. However, it is unclear that the states can assume a greater share of oversight as many have severely curtailed environmental budgets over the past 10 years.

According to NDRC, “preliminary estimates from earlier in the rulemaking process show that the rule may exclude from federal protections nearly a fifth of the country’s streams and about half of the wetlands in the United States. Even those figures likely underestimate the harm. (The administration now disavows this analysis").

“Our nation’s majestic waterways depend for their health on the smaller streams and wetlands that filter pollution and protect against flooding, but the Trump administration wants to ignore the science demonstrating that,” said Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at NRDC. “This regulation is plainly unlawful. It violates the simple but powerful mandate of the Clean Water Act to protect the integrity of our nation’s waters".

“...Because the final rule removes ephemeral streams from protections, representing more than 90% of our state’s waterways, New Mexico will suffer disproportionate harm. We had no choice but to challenge this affront in the courts,” according to Mark Allison, executive director of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

“This effort by the Trump Administration to undo federal protections for wetlands and streams in Wisconsin and around the nation threatens drinking water for millions of Americans, sacrifices habitat for endangered and threatened species, and jeopardizes the fishing, boating, tourism and economic activities that rely on clean water,” said Mark Redsten, president & CEO of Clean Wisconsin.