Energy & Environment

States sue Trump administration over rollback of Obama-era water protections

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A coalition of 17 Democratic-leaning states sued the Trump administration on Friday for rolling back Obama-era protections for waterways, arguing the move ignores science on the interconnectivity of water.

President Trump’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule limits federal protections for a number of smaller waterways, which many scientists say risks pesticides and pollution reaching larger ones.

“This rule opens the door to new, and worse industry pollution that endangers our wildlife, it dirties our drinking water and increases the risk of harmful contamination of our nation’s waterways. In short, it risks the health and safety of Americans around the nation,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said in a call with reporters announcing the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and asks to vacate the rule entirely.

The new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits protections for headwaters like creeks, wetlands and seasonal water bodies caused by snowmelt.

It is the final replacement of the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which Trump vowed to dismantle during the 2016 campaign.

Many farm groups opposed WOTUS, arguing it subjected huge swaths of farmland to federal oversight.

“As long as I’m president, government will never micromanage America’s farmers,” Trump told audience members at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting just days before the replacement rule was announced.

But critics say Trump’s rule does more than just dismantle WOTUS.

“This rule is regressive. It ignores the science and the law and it strips our waters of basic protections under the Clean Water Act. It is a reckless rollback of clean water protections. The dirty water rule goes directly against the goal of the Clean Water Act, and it conflicts with the intent of the statute, which is to protect the quality and the integrity of the nation’s waters,” New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said on Friday’s call.  

But James is also worried about the repercussions from having disparate water protections across the country.

The changes from the Trump administration leaves it to states to set their own protections for smaller bodies of water. James said polluting industries would be incentivized to set up shop in states with weaker protections, something that presents risks for downriver states, including New York, which is downriver from 13 other states.

The scientific claims raised by the states have been likewise raised by EPA’s independent Science Advisory Board, which reviewed the rule when it was first proposed, writing in a draft report that “aspects of the proposed rule are in conflict with established science … and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.”

The EPA would not comment on the litigation but said it believes “the Navigable Waters Protection Rule will stand the test of time.”

A number of green groups have already filed similar suits challenging the law, as has a ranching group, which argued the rollback is still a government overreach

Friday’s suit was filed by California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Tags Clean Water Act Donald Trump Letitia James Water WOTUS Xavier Becerra
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