Schneiderman Leads States in Dueling Water Challenges

(CN) – The Trump administration’s newly announced rollback of clean-water regulations sparked an immediate protest Thursday by eight states.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is at the helm of the pushback, announcing that he will challenge a regulation signed Wednesday by Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt that delays the effective date of the Obama-era Clean Water Rule until 2020.

“The Trump administration’s suspension of the Clean Water Rule threatens to eliminate protections for millions of miles of streams and acres of wetlands across the country,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Make no mistake: abandoning the Clean Water Rule will mean pollution, flooding, and harm to fish and wildlife in New York and across the country — undermining decades of work to protect and enhance our water resources.”

Adopted in 2015 to replace 1977 standards that had been sowing inconsistent interpretations across the country for decades, the Clean Water Rule expands the definition of “waters of the United States” to include intermittent streams, wetlands and floodplains.

After years of interruption wrought by states challenging the law in court, the rule was finally set to be enforced over the next few weeks. Pruitt’s formal delay of the rule came just over a week after the U.S. Supreme Court determined that District Court is the proper venue for states to challenge the rule.

Pruitt has not offered a replacement for the 2015 rule, but Ryan Fisher, acting assistant secretary at the Army Corps of Engineers, said their work on such a regulation will be transparent.

While Pruitt said the rollback of Obama’s rule will reduce confusion and “provide certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers,” Schneiderman argued Thursday that it is the outdated regulations still in force that are confusing.

“The Clean Water Rule is a common sense application of the law and the best science to protect our waters,” Schneiderman said. “The Trump administration’s suspension of these vital protections is reckless and illegal. That is why I will lead a multistate coalition that will sue to block this rollback in court.”

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, applauded Pruitt’s decision.

“That rule would have put a stranglehold on ordinary farming and ranching by treating dry ditches, swales and low spots on farm fields just like flowing waters,” Duvall said in a statement. “Without today’s action, countless farmers and ranchers, as well as other landowners and businesses, would risk lawsuits and huge penalties for activities as common and harmless as plowing a field.”

A representative for the EPA said Pruitt will issue a draft proposal of the replacement rule by May.

Bob Wendlegass, president of the environmentalist group Clean Water Action, said the EPA was throwing away its opportunity to provide clarity and to protect drinking water.

“The delay will merely leave water in limbo while they pursue a special interest powered agenda,” Wendlegass said in a statement Wednesday.

New York Attorney General Schneiderman did not immediately respond to a request detailing which states would join the coalition or how quickly he anticipates rolling out litigation to stop Pruitt’s delay.

Schneiderman is no stranger to firing back at the Trump administration when it comes to environmental, technology and civil rights issues.

Shortly after sounding off Thursday on the Clean Water Rule, Schneiderman published a letter on behalf of 11 other coastal states to fight the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plan.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Schneiderman lamented the drilling risks made “painfully clear” by disasters like the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. The explosion at the Macondo Prospect rig killed 11 and dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Asking Zinke to rescind the draft proposal to drill offshore, Schneiderman pointed to the specific damage New York’s economy would face if drilling is permitted: the state’s maritime economy employs 350,000 people and generates $11.8 billion in wages while contributing $24.9 billion in gross domestic product.

Florida is the only state so far that has been exempted from the plans to drill off U.S. coastlines.

“If the draft [drilling] program is not terminated, we intend to submit on or before March 9, 2018, formal comments,” the letter states. “Among other things, our comments will detail the Draft Proposed Program’s legal insufficiencies and the many harms that it would inflict on our states.”

Attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Maine, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon and Rhode Island all joined the offshore challenge.

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