Today, groups active in protecting our nation’s waters filed a legal challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (COE) recent Clean Water Rule in order to ensure that the rule protects the nation’s waters from pollution and destruction as required by the Clean Water Act and Supreme Court case law.
While the new rule reaffirms longstanding federal protections for many of our nation’s waters, industry pressure resulted in EPA exempting from federal protection some streams, wetlands and other waterways, many of which have been protected since the 1970s. These exemptions are contrary to the best scientific evidence and the basic requirements of the Clean Water Act. As a result, the rule fails to do the full job of ensuring that iconic water bodies such as Puget Sound, the Great Lakes, and rivers such as the Columbia River and Colorado are not harmed by destructive pollution upstream.
The clean water groups also challenge a portion of the rule that that allows industry to use natural waters of the U.S. as waste dumps, a concept contrary to the important protective provisions in the rule.
Although the Clean Water Rule as it currently stands contains these egregious polluter giveaways, its essential protections will protect the waters important for drinking, fishing, and recreation for millions of Americans. Therefore, Sierra Club and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance will seek to vigorously defend the rule’s basic protections from polluter attacks and challenges. The rule was finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help strengthen the Clean Water Act by clarifying which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.
“Puget Sound is not a bathtub with no connection to the landscape,” said Chris Wilke, Executive Director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. It is part of a large, important ecosystem comprised of wetlands, lakes, rivers, small and large streams, and tributaries all of which contribute to (or detract from) the water quality and health of Puget Sound. What we do upstream affects waters downstream and we cannot protect this incredible waterbody and watershed upon which so many people and species depend with one hand tied behind our back—and that is what this rule will do. EPA must preserve the authority to protect any water that science demonstrates has a significant nexus to Puget Sound and other navigable waterbodies.”
“EPA’s attempt to tie its own hands and sidestep protections for waters that have a significant nexus to waters of the U.S. is contrary to the direction and authority given it by the Clean Water Act,” said Nicholas Jimenez of the Sierra Club. “Congress designated EPA as the protector of our nation’s waters in our Clean Water Act and EPA must not shirk its duty to protect the cleanliness and health of all our nation’s waters, based on what science has been telling us for years regarding the connectedness of ecosystems and water.”
Earthjustice attorneys Jennifer Chavez, Janette Brimmer, and Tamara Zakim are representing Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and the Sierra Club.