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Two New Mexico tribal communities suing EPA over clean water rule

Two New Mexico tribal communities suing EPA over clean water rule

Two New Mexico Native American communities have sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a revision to federal rules regarding waterways they argue violated federal responsibilities toward tribes.

A rule change that took effect last June curtailed the categories of waterway subject to federal protection under the Clean Water Act. The Biden administration is currently reviewing numerous rule changes made under the Trump administration but has yet to announce action on the water rule.

In the lawsuit, the Jemez and Laguna pueblos argued that cultural practices and tribal resources are adversely affected by any removal or restriction of access to clean water due to the scarcity of water in the Southwest.

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“The Agencies had discretion to apply a broader interpretation of ‘waters of the United States’ as they did in the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which would have avoided harm to the Pueblos’ waters,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, the Agencies’ narrow interpretation of ‘waters of the United States’ in the 2020 Navigable Waters Rule withdraws federal water quality protections over Pueblo streams that are ephemeral, intermittent, and seasonal, as well as groundwater, upon all of which the Pueblos rely."

It further charges that the federal government failed to conduct any direct consultations with pueblo leaders before the rule took effect.

“Instead of engaging in a government-to-government dialogue in the development of policy, the EPA offered generic “listening sessions” that did not allow any meaningful conversations,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit follows another last May by the state of New Mexico. In the complaint, state Environmental Secretary James Kenney said the rule would remove protections for up to 90 percent of rivers and streams in the state, according to The Associated Press.

An EPA spokesperson told The Hill the agency declined comment on pending litigation.
 
--Updated 4:15 p.m.