Bucking Trump Agenda, Court Reinstates Clean Water Rule in 26 States

Here’s why this environmental and public health win is so important.

Richard Ellis/ZUMA Wire via Newscom

Victory! A federal judge in South Carolina recently reinstated water protections in 26 states, following a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the Trump administration for illegally suspending the Clean Water Rule early this year. The law clarifies which bodies of water are covered by the Clean Water Act’s pollution-control programs. Although implementation is still on hold in 24 states, the ruling is a decisive win for the environment—and for the millions of Americans whose water supplies are now better protected from pollution.

Here’s why this win is such a big deal.

The water supply of one in three Americans is at stake.

The Clean Water Rule improves protections for numerous water bodies, including streams feeding the water supplies of about one-third of all Americans. These safeguards limit pollution like wastewater discharge from power plants, which contains toxic metals such as mercury and arsenic. Though the Trump administration plans to repeal the Clean Water Rule outright (something that will spark yet another legal showdown), the suspension of the rule in the meantime threatened ecosystems and our drinking water. The longer the Clean Water Rule was on hold, the longer Trump threatened our communities’ health.

It’s not about “puddles.”

The Trump administration, alongside industry forces, has tried to misrepresent the Clean Water Rule as an attempt to regulate “nearly every puddle” and trample on property rights. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Clean Water Rule explicitly exclude puddles, and what’s more, it protects only those waters with a “demonstrated and significant impact on the physical, chemical, and biological condition of downstream water bodies,” says Jon Devine, NRDC’s director of federal water policy.

As most fifth-graders know, large bodies of water—lakes, rivers, oceans—are interconnected with smaller ones, such as wetlands and streams that run seasonally. To keep pollution out of critical ecosystems and our water supplies, we have to keep all these pathways clean. This is not politics; it’s science.

Environmentalists are on a roll!

Albeit partial, this win is the latest in a recent string of legal triumphs against the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks. In fact, this is the seventh victory over the course of just one week (but who’s counting?). To name a few, workers at chemical plants had their rights to basic safety measures affirmed. The endangered vaquita porpoise won out against deadly gillnets. And opponents of the dirty Keystone XL pipeline are celebrating a court order demanding a more thorough environmental review. Alongside the Clean Water Rule decision, the courts’ messages to the Trump administration are loud and clear: You can’t break the rules—or our environmental laws.

Block the Trump Agenda

Policy Primer

The Trump administration wants to open our waterways back up to pollution.

Southeast Dispatch

For drinking water, flood control, climate defense, habitat protection, fishing, swimming, and, of course, craft beer.

Guide

Our rivers, reservoirs, lakes, and seas are drowning in chemicals, waste, plastic, and other pollutants. Here’s why―and what you can do to help.

What's At Stake

The regulations that protect Americans’ health, economy, and environment now need our protection.

We are not holding our breath that President Trump will start backing up his administration’s environmental agenda with scientific facts. But we are holding him accountable for what he says.

Midwest Dispatch

The president’s hotel uses more river water than any other building and has been chronically out of compliance with the Clean Water Act.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.