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Trump Administration Sued for Suspension of Clean Water Rule

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"Their plan puts the water used by hundreds of millions of Americans for drinking, bathing, cooking and recreation at risk." Blan Holman, Southern Environmental Law Center

Multiple states and conservation groups are legally challenging the Trump administration's decision to delay the Obama-era Clean Water Rule.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put a two-year suspension on the rule, also known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS), which protects large water bodies like lakes and rivers but also listed smaller waterways such as streams, ponds and wetlands for federal protection.


The decision to withdraw and replace WOTUS was advocated by industry groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Petroleum Institute, as well as Republican politicians and farmers, ranchers and real estate developers who viewed the rule as an infringement on property rights.

WOTUS was supposed to take effect in the coming weeks after the Supreme Court decided last month that cases regarding the matter should be heard by district courts. However, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's action halted the rule from implementation to come up with a more industry-friendly alternative.

But environmentalists say the suspension will allow uncontrolled pollution and destruction of our nation's rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is leading a coalition of 11 Democratic attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia to block the move.

In their suit filed in the Southern District of New York on Tuesday, the attorneys general charge that in suspending the Clean Water Rule the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated federal law by taking action "with inadequate public notice, insufficient record support and outside their statutory authority."

"Clean water is fundamental to New Yorkers' health, environment and economy," Schneiderman said. "The Trump Administration's suspension of the Clean Water Rule is clearly illegal, threatening New York's decades-long efforts to ensure our residents have access to safe, healthy water. We will fight back against this reckless rollback and the Trump administration's continued assault on our nation's core public health and environmental protections."

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation filed in the New York southern district, contending that the Trump administration's attempt to prevent the enforcement of needed protections for lakes, rivers and wetlands, including streams that feed into the drinking water supplies of 117 million Americans.

Jon Devine, director of federal water policy and senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: "These safeguards should be working to protect our nation's drinking water and recreation resources, but the Trump administration has instead pursued a rushed and illegitimate process to try and stop them."

"The administration's attack on clean water violates the law and runs roughshod over public concern about their waterways. It's dangerous and that's why we're going to court," Devine said.

Jan Goldman-Carter, director for wetlands and water resources for the National Wildlife Federation, added, "The American people have made it crystal clear they want to see our rivers and streams protected. They want to be able to fish in the local stream, swim in a nearby lake and turn on the tap and get a glass of safe, clean water to drink. The Clean Water Rule provides that protection and the Trump administration is working to take it away. We have no choice but to defend America's waterways in court."

The Southern Environmental Law Center also filed a lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

"Clean water is a way of life we take for granted in this nation thanks to bipartisan laws passed almost 50 years ago, but large polluters now want to dismantle it all," said managing attorney Blan Holman. "The administration is pretending that pollution dumped upstream doesn't flow downstream, but their plan puts the water used by hundreds of millions of Americans for drinking, bathing, cooking and recreation at risk. We are going to court to protect clean water across the country."

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the challenge on behalf of American Rivers, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Charleston Riverkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Coastal Conservation League, North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Federation and One Hundred Miles.

In response to the lawsuits, the EPA said the 2015 rule never went into effect.

"It's worth noting that these lawsuits are over an embattled regulation that's been put on hold by the courts to prevent it from taking effect," EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told The Hill. "Our delay rule will keep in place that status quo."

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