Energy & Environment

Green groups plan to sue over Trump rollback of Obama waterway protections

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A coalition of environmental groups informed the Trump administration Tuesday that it would sue over a major rollback of water protections designed to replace the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.

“Trump’s despicable giveaway to polluters will wipe out countless wetlands and streams and speed the extinction of endangered wildlife across the country,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Even as we’re fighting this in court, the polluters will rush to fill in wetlands and turn our waterways into industrial toilets.”

The coming suit, which is spearheaded by the Center for Biological Diversity and includes a number of waterway protection groups, is the first of what may be many suits against the rule.

President Trump’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, finalized last month, dramatically limits the scope of protections for the nation’s waterways, excluding many smaller bodies of water, including seasonal ones, from federal oversight. 

Critics argue the rule ignores that all waterways are connected, with reduced protections increasing the risk that pollution and pesticides will flow downstream into bigger water bodies that serve as drinking water sources.

The coalition’s notice argues the rule did not comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) — another law rolled back by the Trump administration. 

The new water rule violates endangered species protections “by taking an action that ‘may affect’ ESA-listed species without having first engaged in mandatory consultation under the ESA,” the group wrote in its notice.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which rolled out the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, said it would not comment on the pending litigation.

Trump promised during the 2016 campaign to repeal WOTUS, calling it “one of the most ridiculous regulations of all.”

The law had been particularly unpopular with farmers, who argued WOTUS was too far-reaching and required grand efforts to protect relatively small bodies of water that run through their property, ultimately subjecting large swaths of land to federal oversight. 

But experts say Trump’s new rule does much more than reverse the Obama-era plan, scaling back protections for waterways by as much as 50 years by limiting the Clean Water Act.

If the Navigable Waters Protection Rule is upheld in court, small waterways and groundwater would be protected only at the state and local levels.

Tags Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency WOTUS
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