Threat of Wetland Deregulation Inspires Records Suit

WASHINGTON (CN) — Worried that federal regulators will weaken federal wetland protections, a nonprofit brought a federal complaint to expose whether outside groups influenced an executive order targeting the Clean Water Rule.

“The Clean Water Act is our most important safeguard for the health of the nation’s waters and wetlands, so the public has a right to know why Trump’s EPA is doing the bidding of special-interest polluters,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement about the group’s June 1 lawsuit.

Filed with a federal judge in Washington, the complaint comes after the center has waited nearly three months for an answer to its records request under the Freedom of Information Act.

“It’s a sad irony that EPA’s response to concerns about closed-doored meetings has been to close its own doors and shut the public out,” Hartl added in the group’s statement.

The center’s request with the Environmental Protection Agency came about a month after President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13778 on Feb. 28, ordering the EPA to rescind or revise a portion of the regulation that defines which bodies of water qualify for federal protection.

“A narrow interpretation or construction of the rule will undoubtable have severe and profound impacts on biodiversity, endangered and threatened species, and their habitat,” the center says in its complaint.

Before the group filed its request, it says various news outlets had reported “that EPA had reached out to both states and other stakeholders regarding the development, furtherance, and execution of Executive Order 13778.”

Though the law required the EPA to respond to records requests within 20 days, the center says it is still waiting.

“At the time this complaint was filed, EPA has not … provided any responsive documents, or provided an estimate date on which it will complete action on the center’s FOIA request,” the complaint states.

Revision of the Clean Water Rule could eliminate federal protection for millions of acres of wetlands that are home to hundreds of endangered species. The wetlands are also a critical part of an ecosystem that depends on the wetlands as water-purification system and flood and erosion control.

The Center for Biological Diversity also notes that weakened wetland protection would also directly affect Oklahoma, the home state of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, the Trump nominee promised to recuse himself from all litigation matters in which Oklahoma is a party.

In addition to its June 1 suit, the center filed a federal complaint in May to force the EPA to make public Pruitt’s emails and schedule. The agency has yet to produce any of the records requested.

“Scott Pruitt is rapidly turning the EPA into the least transparent, least accountable agency in the federal government, just so he can protect the secrecy of special interests that are calling the shots,” Hartl said. “The agency’s refusal to release these public documents shows just how far this administration will go to put our environment and the health of ordinary Americans on the chopping block.”

A representative for the Department of Justice, which handles all litigation involving federal agencies, has not return an email seeking comment on the suit.

The center is represented by its attorney Amy Atwood.

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