Biden’s First Step to Restore Protections to Critical U.S. Waterways Falls Short

Drinking water sources for 117 million people living in the United States remain at risk


Erin Fitzgerald,

Today, the Biden administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that they would initiate two rulemaking procedures under the Clean Water Act. The first rulemaking would restore pre-2015 protections to waterways in the United States. The second rulemaking would establish a new definition of what constitutes Waters of the United States (WOTUS), a critical designation that results in stronger, nationally-consistent protections for those bodies of water. However, Trump’s Dirty Water Rule will remain in effect until the first round of rulemaking — which will take an undetermined amount of time — is completed, leaving thousands of water bodies vulnerable to contamination, pollution, and destruction.

“Today’s action falls well short of the Biden administration’s commitments to protecting our environment and communities,” said Julian Gonzalez, legislative counsel for Healthy Communities at Earthjustice. “We are urging the EPA to swiftly extend full Clean Water Act protections to all the nation’s waters, as they are urgently needed to stop destruction from industry polluters caused by Trump’s Dirty Water Rule. Critical wetlands, rivers, and streams are being destroyed from coast to coast at a rapid rate with the U.S. Army Corp’s aggressive implementation of the Trump Rule.”

Trumps’s attacks on our waters have affected communities across the country. Millions of Americans rely on the Clean Water Act to protect their drinking water sources. Modeling done by Earthjustice indicates that Trump’s Dirty Water Rule gutted protections for thousands of water bodies, making the destruction or pollution of those waters easier. With the federal government’s aggressive application of the Dirty Water Rule. This rule is already wreaking havoc and harming water resources, especially ephemeral waters and isolated wetlands such as those found in semi-arid environments and the glaciated prairie pothole region of the U.S. Because of the Dirty Water Rule, all ephemeral and some intermittently flowing streams and rivers, as well as wetlands adjacent to these streams and rivers and wetlands that are considered “isolated” or connected to the water table underground could no longer be protected from pollution or destruction under the Clean Water Act.

In response to Trump’s rollback, Earthjustice filled challenges on behalf of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Quinault Indian Nation of Washington state, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa of Minnesota, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the Tohono O’odham Tribe of Arizona, Mi Familia Vota, Puget Sound Keeper Alliance, Idaho Conservation League, and the Sierra Club. Earthjustice will continue to fight to ensure that all of our nation’s waters are fully protected.

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.