Conservation groups filed a formal notice of intent today to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to consider harm to endangered species when adopting a rule that delays the effective date for the 2015 Clean Water Rule. That rule redefined which waterways are protected under the federal Clean Water Act.
The two-year delay is the first of several steps the federal agencies are taking to carry out a 2017 executive order by President Trump that would slash protections for wetlands, creeks and rivers across the nation. The EPA and Army Corps are rushing to comply with the order without considering harm to water quality or endangered species.
“It is clear EPA and the Corps are determined to reduce or eliminate Clean Water Act protections for the majority of our nation’s waters, and they are attempting to do that without legal authority and without complying with the nation’s most basic environmental laws,” said Kelly Hunter Foster, a Waterkeeper Alliance senior attorney.
Among the waters likely to lose protection against pollution and destruction under the agencies’ Feb. 6 delay rule are wetlands such as vernal pools in California, prairie potholes in the upper Midwest and coastal pocosins that provide vital habitat for imperiled species.
“Every day the Trump administration blocks protections for these wetlands is another day that polluters are allowed to drive birds, fish and other animals closer to extinction,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We just can’t let that happen.”
At the time the 2015 Clean Water Rule was adopted, the conservation groups involved in today’s legal action challenged it for creating illegal exemptions for industry and failing to protect important waterways and endangered species. But the groups say the two-year delay of the rule compounds those problems by further reducing the number and types of protected waters in violation of the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other federal laws.
“Instead of resolving the debate, delay grants a giant green light for Big Ag to continue dumping agricultural pollutants on our food and in our environment,” said Adam Keats, a senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety. “We need to strengthen, not gut, the laws that keep industrial agricultural pollution in check, and the time to do that is now, not two years from now.”
“We will do everything in our power to stop the Trump administration from allowing industrial polluters to turn our waterways into sewers, threatening endangered species and human health,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Today’s notice of intent was submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, Humboldt Baykeeper (a program of the Northcoast Environmental Center), Russian Riverkeeper, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper and Monterey Coastkeeper (a program of the Otter Project). It demands that the agencies come into compliance with the Endangered Species Act before proposing a rule to delay the 2015 Clean Water Rule.
The groups filing today’s notice of intent are represented by Earthrise Law Center, the environmental legal clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School.
California vernal pool by Joanna Gilkeson, USFWS. Images are available for media use.