14 states sue EPA over rollback of Obama-era water rule
A coalition of 14 states sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday over its rollback of a landmark Obama-era rule stipulating which waterways are regulated by the federal government.
The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule expanded the scope of waters that farmers, manufacturers and other industries would need to ensure are in compliance with EPA guidelines.
The Trump rollback of the rule, announced in September, would relegate waterway protections to 1986 standards. A proposal for the areas that would be covered under the rule is expected sometime next year.
The coalition of states argue that returning the U.S. to the narrower 1986 standard ignores studies showing how small bodies of water, even seasonal ones following snowmelt, connect with and impact larger bodies of water more typically targeted for regulation.
“This regressive rule ignores science and the law and strips our waters of basic protections under the Clean Water Act. Attorneys general across this nation will not stand by as the Trump Administration seeks to reverse decades of progress we’ve made in fighting water pollution,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, who spearheaded the suit, said in a statement.
Critics of WOTUS argue that the 2015 rule requires grand efforts from farmers and others to protect relatively small bodies of water that run through their property, ultimately subjecting more land to federal oversight.
The EPA declined to comment on Friday’s lawsuit, citing a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in September, when the rollback was announced, that the agency’s “proposed definition and existing state programs will provide a strong network of coverage with our nations water resources.”
“Thanks to the leadership of the EPA we can move forward with a water rule that protects clean water, is within the bounds of the law and doesn’t pose a threat to manufacturing in America,” Wheeler said. “We have to have regulatory certainty, clean, fair smart regulations of environmental law.”
The suit argues the rule is illegal because it fails to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act since it does not meet its objectives to restore and maintain water quality. Much of the suit also hangs on procedural grounds, arguing it does not meet the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.
“We refuse to allow the backward policies of the Trump Administration to inflict lasting damage on our nation’s waterways. There is a legal way of doing business that President Trump has so far refused to learn,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
Former President Obama’s WOTUS rule faced plenty of legal challenges. Shortly after the rule took effect, a total of 27 states sued to block its implementation.