Clean Water Rule
Issued in July 2015, the Clean Water Rule clarifies the scope of coverage of the Clean Water Act, a law passed in 1972 to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity” of America’s waters. The much-needed rule brings back the Clean Water Act’s protections to many important streams, wetlands, and drinking water sources all across the country.
But after the rule was issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, more than 100 parties filed lawsuits, some of them arguing that the rule protects too many waters. NRDC intervened on the side of the EPA and Army Corps to defend the rule. NRDC also brought a narrow challenge to the rule aimed at making it stronger, arguing that the rule inadequately protects or excludes certain waters that should be protected.
The lawsuits filed in the courts of appeals were consolidated in the Sixth Circuit, which stayed, or halted, the implementation of the Clean Water Rule for the duration of the litigation. In January 2018, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Circuit did not have jurisdiction over the case. Accordingly, in February 2018 the Sixth Circuit dismissed the case and dissolved the stay.
In the meantime, however, the Trump administration has been working to roll back the Clean Water Rule administratively. In July 2017, the EPA and Army Corps formally proposed rescinding the Clean Water Rule; a proposal that has not yet been finalized. Then in February 2018, the agencies suspended the Clean Water Rule for two years—until February 2020. NRDC filed a lawsuit to challenge the suspension on the same day it was issued. In May 2018, NRDC filed a motion for summary judgment, urging the court to void the agencies’ suspension.
In August 2018, a win for clean water advocates: Responding to a separate motion filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center, a federal judge found that the Trump administration’s suspension of the Clean Water Rule violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The court set aside the suspension nationwide, allowing the rule to take effect in 26 states. “As administrations change, so do regulatory priorities. But the requirements of the APA remain the same,” the court’s decision concluded.
Other points of NRDC’s legal challenge to the suspension remain to be addressed, including our arguments that the agencies’ rationale for the suspension lacked support and contradicted the evidence in the record.