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Press Release AG Healey Sues Trump Administration Over Illegal Attack on Clean Water Act

Unlawful Final Rule Ignores Science, Disregards Longstanding Policy, and Contradicts the Purpose of the Clean Water Act
For immediate release:
5/01/2020
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

Media Contact for AG Healey Sues Trump Administration Over Illegal Attack on Clean Water Act

Chloe Gotsis

BOSTON Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers over their illegal final rule that strips away critical federal water quality protections under the Clean Water Act for more than half of the country’s wetlands and hundreds of thousands of streams.

The final rule dramatically narrows the “waters of the United States” that are covered under the federal Clean Water Act. In the lawsuit filed today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, the attorneys general argue that the rule directly conflicts with the text and central purpose of the Act — to protect and improve the nation’s water quality, ignores EPA’s own prior scientific findings, and disregards longstanding policy and practice of the federal government. The rule eliminates federal protections for streams and wetlands in Massachusetts, including waters that the state relies on to maintain drinking water, wildlife habitat, agriculture, and recreation. The rule is the latest in a series of actions by the Trump Administration to eviscerate the scope of the Clean Water Act and will leave uncovered many waters that have been protected by the Act for decades.

“President Trump’s illegal regulation goes against the advice of his own scientists and puts our country’s waters at risk for the benefit of his friends in the agribusiness and the oil and gas industries,” AG Healey said. “The Administration’s justification for this illegal rule is absurd. In fact, it will only make it harder for states like Massachusetts to protect our water. Once again, we are suing to defend federal law and our right to clean water.”

A robust and lawful definition of the “waters of the United States” is critical to protecting the nation’s waters and, with them, public and environmental health. The Obama Administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule provided much-needed clarity and consistency in protections under the Clean Water Act by specifically including within the scope of protected waters the headwaters of rivers and creeks, as well as other non-traditionally navigable waters, which have significant impact on downstream water quality. Massachusetts was part of a coalition of seven states (New York, Connecticut, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) and the District of Columbia that participated in litigation to defend the 2015 Clean Water Rule and to fight the Trump Administration’s attempts to suspend it.

Today’s lawsuit argues that the Trump Administration’s final rule is unlawful under the federal Administrative Procedure Act. The states assert in the complaint that the new rule contradicts the Clean Water Act’s objective of maintaining and restoring the integrity of the nation’s waters, and that it arbitrarily eliminates protections for many important water resources that EPA, its Science Advisory Board, and the Army Corps of Engineers had found critical to that objective.

In today’s lawsuit, the coalition contends that in the absence of a strong federal baseline level of protection, environmentally friendly states that have implemented strong state law protections will bear the consequences of pollution carried downstream from states with less protective state laws. Weakening the Clean Water Act will incentivize polluters to relocate to states with less stringent water quality protections. Despite the Trump Administration’s assertion that the new rule protects states’ rights, it will instead encourage a “race to the bottom” between certain states that harms the rights of downstream states to protect their waters and public health from upstream pollution. It will also disrupt state regulatory programs.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has long supported an interpretation of the term “waters of the United States” that follows the scientific evidence, and thus best achieves the Act’s central purpose of protecting water quality. Robust federal protections also serve to reinforce the state’s own strong water quality protection laws, including the Massachusetts Clean Waters Act and the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act.

Joining AG Healey in filing today’s lawsuit are the attorneys general of California, New York, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Virginia, as well as the California State Water Resources Control Board, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and the City of New York.

Representing Massachusetts in this matter are Senior Appellate Counsel Seth Schofield and Special Assistant Attorney General David Frankel of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division, with assistance from Special Assistant Attorney General Nora Chorover, also of the Environmental Protection Division.

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Media Contact for AG Healey Sues Trump Administration Over Illegal Attack on Clean Water Act

Office of Attorney General Maura Healey 

Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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