Over One Hundred Environmental and Community Groups Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Uphold Federal Clean Water Protections

Friend of the court brief filed in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Environmental and community organizations from across the nation today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the longstanding scope of the Clean Water Act and reject industry attempts to eliminate federal clean water protections that have kept families, communities, and rivers and lakes safe from pollution for decades. Natural Resources Defense Council joined the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents 113 environmental and community organizations, in filing the brief in support of the Environmental Protection Agency in the case, Sackett v. EPA.

“Our families and communities rely on the Clean Water Act to safeguard our waterways and wetlands that control flooding, filter out pollution, and provide safe drinking water,” said Kelly Moser, senior attorney and leader of the Clean Water Defense Initiative at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents 113 environmental and community groups in today’s filing. “A bipartisan Congress put these federal clean water protections in place, and decades of Supreme Court decisions confirm their broad scope. Polluters are now seeking to undo decades of progress—under administrations of both parties—to allow millions of miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands to be polluted and paved over.”

“Anyone who depends on clean water – meaning all of us – should be appalled at the polluters’ brazen attempt to rewrite history and eviscerate the Clean Water Act,” said Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at NRDC. “The Clean Water Act's protections for small streams and wetlands benefit communities across the country by curbing flooding, preventing pollution of places our families go fishing and swimming, and supplying drinking water for millions of people.” 

The opponents of clean water in the case are asking the Supreme Court to gut the Clean Water Act by excluding critical streams and wetlands, allowing them to be filled in and subjected to industrial pollution. This outcome would decimate the quality of downstream rivers and lakes that Americans depend on for drinking water, fishing, swimming, and their livelihoods. Wetlands help protect our communities from increasingly intense storms and floods, act as natural pollution filters that improve our water quality, and protect wildlife including fish and shellfish for our fisheries.

Congress enacted the Clean Water Act fifty years ago with a single objective:  to restore and maintain the integrity of our nation’s waters. Congress rejected earlier failed approaches that largely left water pollution to a patchwork of ineffective state laws, and instead adopted a comprehensive approach with consistent minimum standards to protect waterways throughout the country.

As highlighted in the brief, over 45 million acres of wetlands would be excluded from the Clean Water Act’s protections if the Supreme Court adopted the challengers’ arguments.  Among the waters that would lose protection are hundreds of acres of wetlands on the doorstep of the Okefenokee Swamp. This invaluable national wildlife refuge and the downstream St. Marys Rivers depend on the wetlands to filter pollution and store floodwaters, but the Sackett petitioners would remove federal clean water protections from the wetlands, allowing them to be destroyed and turned into waste dumps for a proposed strip mine.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is one of the nation’s most powerful defenders of the environment, rooted in the South. With a long track record, SELC takes on the toughest environmental challenges in court, in government, and in our communities to protect our region’s air, water, climate, wildlife, lands, and people. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the organization has a staff of 170, including 90 attorneys, and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., with offices in Asheville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Nashville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. southernenvironment.org

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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