NC Attorney General makes bid to have Clean Water Act rollbacks dismissed

Environmental, Sound Rivers

Posted on November 24th, 2020

Wetlands serve as a buffer for coastal areas during flooding events and serve as a natural filter for pollution. The EPA’s rollbacks of wetland protections earlier this year put the health of the rivers and communities at risk. (North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality)

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein filed a motion Tuesday for summary judgment in a lawsuit filed earlier this year challenging the rollback of key parts of the federal Clean Water Act.

“These federal protections are critical for the people of eastern North Carolina, and our state at large — they ensure that our wetlands can filter out pollutants and provide clean drinking water, reduce the risk of flooding on our coast, and allow our agricultural and coastal economies to thrive,” Stein wrote in a press release. “The Trump administration’s rule is dangerous and puts the health of North Carolinians at risk. With this motion, I am continuing my fight to protect our access to clean water.”

The rule redefined the Waters of the United States, reducing protections for half of all U.S. wetlands and millions of miles of small streams to their lowest levels since the 1980s. The redefined WOTUS prompted action from conservation groups across the U.S., and in February, Sound Rivers joined with 12 other organizations nationwide to file formal notice of intent to sue the Trump administration.

Stein’s motion comes as a sign of progress to Sound Rivers.

“We appreciate the leadership by Attorney General Josh Stein and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality for standing up to these destructive rollbacks to clean water, ones that also put our communities at further risk from flooding,” said Heather Deck, executive director of Sound Rivers.

Wetlands filter water, absorbing the overabundance of nutrients from runoff, as well as provide a buffer against floodwaters and sea-level rise. For the hurricane-prone states of the south, they are vital to controlling the height and speed of flooding, which the EPA itself has documented. The redefined WOTUS, however, would allow developers to pave over some wetlands, as well as loosen restrictions on pollutants, such as pesticides and mining waste, directly dumped into now-unprotected waterways — protections against both have been in place since the Reagan administration.

For Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr, dumping the EPA’s revision of WOTUS is about common sense.

“We continue to support commonsense rules and regulations that protect our natural environment and community. Without these commonsense laws, our communities would face an even greater threat from climate change,” Starr said.

Stein’s motion for summary judgment argues the revised rule should be voided because doesn’t abide by the primary purpose of the Clean Water Act and:

  • 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;
  • Reduces and eliminates protections for ephemeral streams, tributaries, adjacent waters, wetlands and other important water resources that significantly affect downstream waters without basis;
  • Fails to comply with controlling Supreme Court precedent established;
  • Lacks a reasoned explanation or rational basis for changing long-standing policy and practice.

Joining Stein in filing the motion are NCDEQ, the Attorneys General of California, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, the California State Water Resources Control Board and the City of New York.




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