Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule following the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the Sacketts – and severely limiting the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA) – in the case of Sackett v. EPA.
The rewrite significantly narrows the range of waters previously protected under the definition of WOTUS, and opens the door for industries to contaminate and destroy wetlands, streams, and other waterways, which play a fundamental role in providing and safeguarding clean water. Under limits announced by the Supreme Court, it is estimated that at least half of the wetlands in the lower 48 states have lost their Clean Water Act protections and development projects – including pipelines, mines, and large-scale housing and business development – will be allowed to move forward without meeting federal water quality protections. EPA’s rule, announced today, unfortunately, goes even farther than Sackett requires, and potentially leaves a multitude of other waters unprotected in contravention of EPA’s directive to protect and restore the nation’s waters.
In response, Marc Yaggi, CEO of Waterkeeper Alliance released the following statement:
“The Supreme Court’s devastating decision in Sackett has forced EPA to walk back its renewed protections for waterways under the WOTUS rule and EPA’s new rule inexplicably puts even more waters at risk. There could not be a worse time to weaken the Clean Water Act. Intensifying droughts are wreaking havoc on agriculture, pollution and toxins are increasingly threatening water sources nationwide, and millions of people are contending with dangerously contaminated drinking water.
Congress and local elected officials must now step in and do more to protect clean water through durable legislation and state-based action. Waterkeeper Alliance remains committed to advocating for broad federal Clean Water Act protections, which is the most effective way to hold polluters accountable and protect everyone’s right to clean and abundant water for all.”
The Alliance maintains that the WOTUS rule, which defines all waters that fall under U.S. federal jurisdiction, requires a broad definition under the CWA. The organization argues that limiting its scope will threaten critical protections for public health and many endangered species that depend on these sources as well as the wellbeing of communities; local, state, and national economies; and the functioning of our nation’s vast, interconnected aquatic ecosystems.
If a stream, river, lake, or wetland is not included in the WOTUS definition, untreated toxic, biological, chemical, and radiological pollution can be discharged directly into those waters without meeting any of the CWA’s permitting and treatment requirements. Excluded waterways are also subject to being dredged, filled, and polluted with impunity because the CWA’s most fundamental human health and environmental safeguard — the prohibition on unauthorized discharges — would no longer apply.