New York State Takes Action To Defend Clean Water Act

State Attorney General Moves to Intervene in Suit Over Jurisdiction

Washington DC (July 23, 2003) -- New York State filed court papers Monday seeking to intervene in two lawsuits that could potentially lead to a major reduction in the scope of the Clean Water Act. In June, Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Sierra Club filed their own motion to intervene in these cases.

"We're delighted that New York State is intervening in this crucial clean water litigation," said Jennifer Kefer, attorney for Earthjustice. "The state's motion indicates how important this case could be to clean water protections across the Nation."

"Everyone knows that oil and water don't mix. Everyone, that is, except the oil industry," said Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Daniel Rosenberg. "We're concerned that the Bush administration may cut a backroom deal with industry, so we're glad that New York is intervening to help protect the Clean Water Act from polluters."

"For thirty years, the Clean Water Act has protected our lakes, streams, rivers and wetlands. So why is the Bush Administration trying to weaken it?" said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. "Instead of bowing to the oil industry, the Bush Administration should be protecting communities by implementing the Clean Water Act, a tried and true solution."

The oil industry suits argue that the Clean Water Act's protections apply only to waters which are "navigable in fact," and wetlands adjacent to those waters, a definition which would exclude most of the nation's streams and creeks and many of its wetlands. If that narrow definition is upheld by the courts, a majority of our waters could lose federal protection from all polluters.

New York State's motion to intervene underlines the importance that states place on maintaining a strong Clean Water Act. Earlier this year, a total of 39 states, including New York, submitted comments opposing a Bush administration proposal to rewrite Clean Water Act rules to illegally limit the scope of the law. The oil industry cases opposed by New York and environmental groups raise many of the same issues as the Bush administration's proposal.

According to the papers filed by New York State, about 20 percent of the state's streams, creeks, and wetlands -- including much of the watershed that provides drinking water to New York City -- could lose federal Clean Water Act protection if the oil industry's arguments prevail. Nationwide, at least 60 percent of creeks and streams, and 20 percent of wetlands, could lose federal protection under the Bush administration proposal.

"New York's motion shows that states continue to be concerned about efforts to limit the scope of the Clean Water Act and that they are prepared to fight to prevent such limitations," noted Kefer. "The state's action sends a clear message that New York wants strong protections for its creeks, streams, and wetlands."

To read New York State's Motion to Intervene, click here.

To read a press release about the environmental groups' Motion to Intervene, click here.

For more information on the potential impact of these threats to the Clean Water Act, click here.

Click here for links to state comments opposing a reduction in the scope of the Clean Water Act.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.