State Attorneys General Express Strong Support for Clean Water Protection Rule

This morning, a group of Attorneys General representing seven States and the District of Columbia publicly announced their wholehearted support for an important effort by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restore legal protections for small streams and wetlands.

The Attorneys General – led by New York and joined by Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Rhode Island, Washington State, and Washington, DC – expressed their support in comments that they submitted to EPA and the Army Corps.  The two agencies are currently accepting public input on a proposed rule that will clarify the types of waters protected by the Clean Water Act.  Right now, small streams and wetlands are not clearly covered by the law, even though they prevent flooding, filter out pollutants, feed the drinking water supplies of one in three Americans, and provide valuable hunting and fishing spots.

The AGs’ show of support underscores how badly State clean water officials need this rule to be finalized.  As things stand, they’re operating under difficult conditions.  Two recent Supreme Court decisions created significant uncertainty about which waters are legally protected, making it burdensome for States to try to enforce the law – even when ecologically important and vulnerable waters are being degraded and destroyed. 

The Attorneys General understand the practical problems caused by the current legal muddle, and they know that the proposed rule would make it easier to stop polluters.  As they stated in the press release accompanying their comments: “By clarifying the scope of waters of the United States, the rule addresses the current confusion and disagreements in the courts regarding the application of the CWA.  States need this legal clarity to efficiently and confidently administer their water protection programs.”

They support the rule for two other important reasons as well.  First, they recognize that the rule is grounded in solid, peer-reviewed science.  EPA and the Army Corps have demonstrated, after evaluating 1,000 scientific studies and reports, that many waters are connected by networks of tributaries and wetlands.  Because of these connections, we can’t keep our larger rivers and lakes healthy and clean without protecting the smaller streams and wetlands that feed into them.

And the AGs also understand that water doesn’t respect lines drawn on a map.  When someone pollutes a stream or fills a wetland, the effects can be felt far away, beyond any one State’s borders.  That’s why we need federal protections to level the playing field and make sure all States do their part to protect clean water.  According to the press release: “The rule sets a strong ‘floor’ for protecting our nation’s interconnected waters.  Such a floor ensures basic consistency and effectiveness in water pollution control among states, thereby protecting downstream states from the effects of unregulated discharges from upstream states.”

This letter of support for the rule comes only a week after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 5078, a bill that would prohibit EPA and the Army Corps from finalizing the rule – thereby perpetuating the current state of legal uncertainty and continued pollution.  It shows that the House couldn’t be more out of touch when it comes to understanding the needs of the States who are charged with implementing and enforcing clean water safeguards.  Congress needs to let the agencies finalize the rule, after an open and transparent public process, so that these Attorneys General can do their job more efficiently and citizens and businesses can better understand their obligations under the law.