NYC, DC & 15 States Contest Rollback of Water Pollution Rule

MANHATTAN (CN) – A coalition of state prosecutors filed suit Friday against the Trump administration, saying regulators ignored the science in rolling back protections for many U.S. waterways.

Led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court comes more than two months after the the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a rule that redefines the term “Waters of the United States,” doing away with an Obama-era expansion of the term meant to protect states that otherwise lack the authority to directly control pollution originating upstream from outside their borders.

“When the Agencies repealed the Clean Water Rule and re-promulgated the 1986 definition, they ignored and countermanded without reasoned explanation their prior scientific and factual findings, including their findings regarding categories of waters that significantly affect the integrity of downstream navigable waters, findings that the agencies made when they issued the Clean Water Rule,” the 29-page complaint states.

Environmentalists hailed the 2015 expansion put in place by the Obama administration as a critical environmental protection, but critics have said it put an unnecessary burden on businesses while also vastly expanding the regulatory power of the federal government.

Trump signed an executive order in 2017 directing the EPA to reconsider the regulation, which the president referred to as “very destructive and horrible.” The order was among his first official acts as president. 

As Attorney General James puts it, however, the law’s repeal threatens to bring back regulatory confusion that arose following two Supreme Court decisions in the early 2000s that made it unclear what kinds of water features the government could regulate under the Clean Water Act.

A representative for the EPA declined to comment on the pending litigation.

New York is joined in the suit by California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, the Commonwealths of Massachusetts, Virginia, the District of Columbia and the City of New York.

The suit also names Andrew Wheeler and R. D. James as co-defendants in their official capacities as administrator of EPA and assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works within the Army Corps, respectively.

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