North Carolina Wildlife Federation joined other conservation groups challenging in court the Trump administration’s effort to strip away crucial clean water protections from rivers, lakes, streams and other waters that feed drinking-water sources for 200 million Americans. That figure includes 32 million people in the South, or seven out of ten Southerners. The legal challenge, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, opens a major court battle over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ repeal of clean water protections under the Clean Water Act, one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws. The repeal of these standards is one of several steps announced by the administration to gut long-standing clean water protections, including a proposal currently subject to public comment that would leave many waters vulnerable to pollution and fill by redefining which waters are protected.
The Southern Environmental Law Center filed today’s challenge on behalf of North Carolina Wildlife Federation and the other plaintiffs.
The lawsuit contends that EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated a long-standing law that prohibits agencies from altering basic environmental safeguards without giving the public adequate notice and a chance to comment. According to the lawsuit, the agencies failed at their most basic responsibilities: evaluating the effect of their reckless actions and giving the public a meaningful opportunity to comment on their decision to eliminate scientifically-backed protections for streams and wetlands.
“This repeal of our water protections is a rushed political decision that should be based on science, as is the Clean Water Rule, said Tim Gestwicki, CEO of North Carolina Wildlife Federation. “Wildlife need clean water and hunters and anglers know that without it, there won’t be ducks to hunt or fish to catch. Folks who love our streams, rivers, and wetlands deserve better, which is why this grievous repeal must be fought in court.”
“Clean water is a way of life we take for granted in America, but now large polluters are trying to dismantle bipartisan water protections in place for almost 50 years,” said Blan Holman, a managing attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing the conservation groups in court. “The administration is pretending that pollution dumped upstream doesn’t flow downstream, but its plan puts the water used by hundreds of millions of Americans for drinking, bathing, fishing, and business at risk. We are going to court to protect clean water across the country.”
The legal case SELC filed can be viewed here:
Impacts on North Carolina
North Carolina has 37,000 miles of freshwater streams, many of them small headwater streams that may only flow for parts of the year, yet are incredibly important spawning habitat for native brook trout and other species. Even for those who prefer to fish larger rivers, protecting these small headwaters means better water quality downstream for other anglers and municipal water supplies. Water that starts its cascade in a brook trout stream ends up in the taps of thousands of North Carolinians’ homes. Our vast wetlands ecosystems provide spawning areas for fish, flood relief, and water quality filtration. With the exception of Louisiana, North Carolina has more sound and estuarine waters than any other Lower 48 state.
“The repeal to the Clean Water Act would put North Carolina’s drinking water at risk by removing protections from smaller headwater streams and tributaries, and would undermine our state’s resiliency during flooding events by eliminating protections on millions of acres of wetlands that safeguard our communities,” Gestwicki said. “As North Carolina continues to rebuild from last year’s and this year’s hurricanes and historic flooding, the rollback repeals are especially egregious. We need restored wetlands, streams, and floodplains, not less protections.”
The agencies have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.