Connecticut AG Tong files suit to protect clean water

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong (contributed photo)

Hartford, CT – Attorney General William Tong on Friday joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to gut longstanding Clean Water Act protections by unlawfully narrowing the definition of “Waters of the United States. The EPA final rule removes protections for all ephemeral streams, many wetlands, and other waters that were previously covered under the Act. In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that EPA’s rule directly conflicts with the text of the Clean Water Act, Supreme Court precedent, and the EPA’s own scientific findings.

“The whole point of the Clean Water Act was to clean up our nation’s waterways, and that requires a full and comprehensive application of the law. This revised rule, however, turns a blind eye to basic science, and will have disastrous implications for public health and the environment. The EPA ignored basic federal law in their rush to push through this damaging rule, and Connecticut joins with our partner states in defending the goals of the Clean Water Act in court,” said Attorney General Tong.

The definition of “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act is critical to maintaining a strong federal foundation for water pollution control and water quality protection that preserves the integrity of our waters. While the Clean Water Act has resulted in dramatic improvements to water quality in the United States, its overriding objective has not yet been obtained. Many of the nation’s waters remain polluted. The 2015 Clean Water Rule enacted during the Obama Administration provided much-needed clarity and consistency in federal Clean Water Act protections 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.

The 2020 rule narrows the definition of “Waters of the United States” to eliminate federal protections for many of our nation’s waterways, including waters we rely on for drinking water, wildlife habitat, agriculture, and recreation. In the lawsuit, the coalition highlights that exclusion of these waters directly harms environmentally responsible states by increasing the risk of pollution from less-protective jurisdictions; incentivizing polluters to relocate to states with less stringent water quality protections; and disrupting state regulatory programs.

The coalition asserts that the 2020 rule is unlawful under the federal Administrative Procedure Act because it:

  • Contradicts the Clean Water Act’s objective of maintaining and restoring the integrity of the Nation’s waters and the EPA’s own scientific findings;
  • Arbitrarily and capriciously reduces and eliminates protections for ephemeral streams, tributaries, adjacent waters, wetlands and other important water resources that significantly affect downstream waters;
  • Fails to comply with controlling Supreme Court precedent established in Rapanos v. United States; and
  • Lacks a reasoned explanation or rational basis for changing long-standing policy and practice.

In filing the lawsuit, Attorneys General Tong joins the attorneys general of California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. The California State Water Resources Control Board, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and the City of New York also joined the coalition in filing the lawsuit.

Assistant Attorneys General David Wrinn and Matthew Levine, Head of the Environment Department assisted the Attorney General with this matter.

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