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Conservation Groups Challenge Repeal of Clean Water Act Protections

In October, the Trump administration repealed 2015 regulations that protected streams, wetlands and rivers from polluting chemicals. (Adobe Stock)
In October, the Trump administration repealed 2015 regulations that protected streams, wetlands and rivers from polluting chemicals. (Adobe Stock)
November 5, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. — Conservation groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers over the Trump administration's rollback of Clean Water Act regulations aimed at keeping rivers, lakes and streams pristine.

The lawsuit contends the agencies violated a long-standing law that prohibits them from making changes to basic environmental safeguards without giving the public adequate notice and a chance to comment. Geoff Gisler is a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, who filed the challenge on behalf of eleven other organizations.

"When a wetland or a stream is protected under the Clean Water Act, what it means is that you can't put a pipe into it and dump pollution into it,” Gisler said. “It means you can't fill it in without a permit - so you can't just go and build a parking lot."

North Carolina is home to 37,000 miles of freshwater streams. Gisler said the lawsuit will be heard in a district court in Charleston, South Carolina, sometime in 2020.

Tim Gestwicki, CEO of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said repealing parts of the Clean Water Act not only puts North Carolinians' drinking water at risk, but also makes homeowners more vulnerable to flooding by eliminating protections on millions of acres of wetlands.

"As North Carolina continues to rebuild from last year's and this year's hurricanes and historic flooding, the rollback repeals are especially egregious,” Gestwicki said. “We need restored wetlands, streams and floodplains - not less protections."

Gisler pointed out that millions of residents living in Southern states who rely on drinking water from downstream sources will feel the effects of the rollback the hardest.

"When those small streams that would have been filtering out pollution are no longer there, then more pollution is going to end up in our big rivers. When those wetlands that would store floodwater are not there, we're going to have worse floods,” Gisler said. “People, while they may not care or may not know about some of the regulatory parts of it, they'll see the effects."

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in a case that considers whether the Clean Water Act regulates pollution discharge that "indirectly" enters protected waters. The case involves a coral reef off of the Hawaiian coast.

Disclosure: North Carolina Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC