AG Becerra Files Lawsuit to Protect the Clean Water Rule

SACRAMENTO, Feb. 6, 2018 — Joining a coalition of 11 Attorneys General, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) over their decision to suspend the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which would protect California’s lakes, rivers, and streams from pollutants. The Clean Water Rule was developed using a science-based approach to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States” in the federal Clean Water Act. Federal law prohibits the discharge of pollutants into “waters of the United States.”

“The Trump Administration should be doing everything in its power to keep our water clean, to protect our environment. Instead, it has decided to suspend the Clean Water Rule with cavalier disregard for our laws and deliberative process,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The California Department of Justice will not spectate as this Administration attempts to undo yet another critical environmental protection. We will do what is necessary to defend the Clean Water Rule and our right to clean water. The Rule was legally promulgated, based on science, and will help protect our precious water resources. We look forward to making our case in court.”

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Promulgated on June 29, 2015, the Clean Water Rule sought to address significant issues with the prior definition of “waters of the United States.” For decades, the pre-2015 definition had been interpreted differently among the courts, leading to confusion, unpredictability, and inconsistent application of the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Rule clarified the definition of “waters of the United States” to explicitly include waters in floodplains, riparian areas, and intermittent and ephemeral streams. This change was an especially important development for California. Due to its semi-arid climate, most of California’s streams and rivers are intermittent or ephemeral, meaning they do not flow year-round. On February 1, 2018, the Trump Administration announced its suspension of the Clean Water Rule and reinstatement of the pre-2015 regulatory definition of “waters of the United States.”

The lawsuit alleges that the EPA and Army Corps violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act because:

  • The EPA and Army Corps acted without authority in suspending the Clean Water Rule;
  • The EPA and Army Corps suspended the Clean Water Rule in violation of federal notice and comment requirements; and
  • The EPA and Army Corps provided no rational explanation for the suspension of the Clean Water Rule.

In filing today’s lawsuit, Attorney General Becerra joins the Attorneys General of New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.