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Lawsuit Filed Against EPA’s Stripping of Clean-Water Protections

Wetlands prevent flooding by sponging up excess water after storms and heavy rains. (Adobe Stock)
Wetlands prevent flooding by sponging up excess water after storms and heavy rains. (Adobe Stock)
May 5, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Southern Environmental Law Center and other groups have sued the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for redefining which waterways are protected under the Clean Water Act.

The move strips protections from more than half of the country's waters. Ben Prater, southeast's program director at Defenders of Wildlife, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said the rollback will have sweeping consequences.

"It would affect every region of the state, from the Carolina Bay and isolated wetlands and wide floodplains of the coast to the wetlands and ephemeral streams in the sandhills, as well as the headwater streams and bog wetlands," Prater said.

He said there is no scientific justification for the rule change, which is slated to go into effect on June 22.

The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have said the rule is needed to clarify confusion surrounding which waters are protected and which aren't for farmers, landowners and businesses. The agencies have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.

Prater said healthy wetlands and streams filter out pollution and stormwater and soak up excess floodwater. And he noted the state still is rebuilding from recent hurricane damage and historic floods.

"It'll affect folks' water quality, drinking water. It'll also affect fishing, fisheries, habitat," Prater said. "It really would have devastating consequences for wildlife."

He said the administration's move is ill-timed, as the COVID-19 pandemic puts the spotlight on North Carolinians' health.

"In the wake of this pandemic, removing environmental protections seems to have been status quo for this administration, but we're standing firm with our partners and with the public to ensure that drinking water and wildlife habitat are protected now and into the future," he said.

The lawsuit also contends the agencies failed to evaluate the impact of the rule change on the nation's water quality or give Americans a meaningful opportunity to comment on the gutting of protections for streams and wetlands.

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.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC