RICHMOND (May 19, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a multistate coalition in seeking a preliminary injunction in their lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s unlawful final rule redefining the “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that the rule should be suspended pending the court’s decision on the coalition’s lawsuit in order to prevent widespread harm to national water quality and to avoid disruption to state and local water pollution control programs.
“This unlawful rule change is just one more way that Trump’s EPA continues to shirk its responsibilities to protect the environment,” said Attorney General Herring. “Redefining the ‘waters of the United States’ will leave many types of waters unprotected, leading to much dirtier water across our country. While the Clean Water Act has made a significant impact on the health of our waters, there is still so much work to be done but this rule change will reverse much of that progress and leave us with dirtier, unhealthy water.”
The definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act is critical to maintaining a strong federal foundation for water pollution control and water quality protection that preserves the integrity of our waters. While the Clean Water Act has resulted in dramatic improvements to water quality in the United States, its overriding objective has not yet been achieved. Many of the nation’s waters fail to meet water quality standards. The 2015 Clean Water Rule enacted during the Obama Administration provided much-needed clarity and consistency in federal Clean Water Act protections. It specifically includes within the scope of protected waters, the headwaters of rivers and creeks as well as other non-traditionally navigable waters, such as wetlands and ephemeral streams, which have significant impact on downstream water quality.
Attorney General Herring joined a multistate coalition in filing a lawsuit on May 1, 2020 challenging a Trump Administration final rule narrowing the definition of “waters of the United States” to remove protections for all ephemeral streams, many wetlands, and other waters that were previously covered under the Clean Water Act. Under the new rule, more than half of all wetlands and at least 18 percent of all streams would be left without federal protections. Western states like California would be even harder hit, with 35 percent of all streams deprived of federal protections as a result of the region’s dry climate.
In today’s filing, the coalition argues that a preliminary injunction is necessary to prevent significant and irreparable harm to waterways across the country. The Trump Administration’s “dirty water rule” weakens water quality protections for numerous waterways, allowing pollution into formerly protected streams and wetlands. In doing so, the rule threatens the habitat of many fish, birds, and other animal species, and paves the way for the filling of wetlands, hamstringing a critical instrument for flood mitigation. The rule’s sweeping changes to the regulatory landscape also threaten widespread disruption of state and local water and wetlands programs. In order to protect the integrity of the Nation’s waters and maintain programs that advance the Clean Water Act’s water quality objectives, it is essential that this damaging final rule does not go into effect.
Joining Attorney General Herring in filing the preliminary injunction are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. The California State Water Resources Control Board, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and the City of New York also joined the coalition in filing the lawsuit.