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Clean Water Protections Restored For Millions of Streams and Wetlands

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In a win for clean drinking water and wildlife health, millions of streams and wetlands across the U.S. just regained legal protection from toxic pollution. A federal judge threw out a disastrous Trump-era rule that allowed industries to dump fertilizers, pesticides, and other pollutants into these bodies of water, ruling that the policy could cause serious environmental harm.

Earthjustice represented six Native tribes in a successful legal challenge to the Trump-era rule. Now it’s up to the Biden administration to boost protections for waterways, rivers, and ephemeral streams that are critical for the environment.

The Trump-era rule needlessly opened millions of waterways and wetlands to industrial pollution.

  • Under Trump, the EPA cut millions of streams and wetlands out of safeguards guaranteed by the Clean Water Act, even though the agency’s own science advisors warned that pollution could spread downstream, harming larger bodies of water and the communities that rely on them.
  • Without Clean Water Act protections, industries can dump uncontrolled discharges of toxic pollution—harming drinking water supplies, recreational waters, wildlife, animals, and people.
  • The Trump-era rule was particularly damaging for waters throughout the West, Southwest and Great Lakes.

The judge said the rule is too flawed and risky to leave in place while the Biden administration works on revising it.

  • In its ruling, the court found that the Trump-era policy was legally and scientifically flawed. It wiped the Trump rule off the books because of its potential for harm.
  • The rule disproportionately threatened the livelihoods and traditions of our clients, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Tohono O’odham Nation, Quinault Indian Nation, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
  • “The sacred waters that were put at risk by the Trump administration are essential to our cultural and religious lives as indigenous people,” said Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. “This includes springs in Southern Arizona sacred to the O’odham that are threatened by a foreign mining company which used Trump’s dirty water rule to try to advance its destructive project. This decision by the court rightfully vacates a grievous error.”

The Biden administration must now come up with a new rule that widens and strengthens protections for U.S. waterways.

The Menominee River was one of many waterways threatened by the Trump administration's gutting of clean water protections.
The Menominee River was one of many waterways threatened by the Trump administration's gutting of clean water protections. (WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES / CC BY 3.0)