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Lawsuit Filed by Conservation Groups to Protect NM from Dirty Water

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Friday, May 1, 2020   

SANTA FE, N.M. - A proposal to abolish limits on how much pollution can be dumped into small streams and wetlands was challenged this week by conservation groups.

The legal challenge could open a major court battle over what waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. Critics say clean-water protections would revert to a level not seen in 50 years if the Waters of the U.S. rule proposed by the Trump administration is adopted.

Bryan Bird, southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife, says the new rule would leave 90% of New Mexico's waters unprotected under the Clean Water Act.

"That's a lot of water," says Bird. "So, we are going to very likely have dirty water as a result of this - water that we can't swim in, water that we can't drink, water that's not good for wildlife."

Bird says polluters would no longer need a permit to release contaminated water into ephemeral streams and wetlands that aren't immediately adjacent to protected waters.

Western states have an abundance of ephemeral waters - water that flows only occasionally because of to rainstorms and snowmelt.

According to New Mexico's Environment Department, the rule change would eliminate about 40% of the state's water-pollution permits, including those held by wastewater treatment plants, hard-rock mines and coal mines.

Bird says the state's water could be especially vulnerable because New Mexico is one of three "non-delegated" states.

"The means that the EPA administers and issues all of our permits in New Mexico," says Bird. "So that basically means if we don't have federal protection for 90% of our water, then there's no protection; the state doesn't protect it."

He adds that drinking water for 280,000 people in New Mexico could be affected by the rule change.

Those challenging the new rule says it ignores the original intent of the Clean Water Act, which was bipartisan legislation passed by Congress in 1972 after state-by-state efforts failed to clean the nation's waters.

Disclosure: Defenders of Wildlife contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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