SACRAMENTO, May 18, 2020– California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New York Attorney General Letitia James, leading a multistate coalition, filed a motion for preliminary injunction in a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s unlawful final rule redefining the “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. The coalition argues that the rule should be enjoined pending the court’s decision on the coalition’s lawsuit in order to prevent widespread harm to national water quality and to avoid disruption to state and local water pollution control programs.

 “The Trump Administration blatantly disregarded the law when it rewrote the rules to exclude many of California’s waterways from protections under the Clean Water Act,” said Attorney General Becerra.“Sadly, this is unsurprising, merely consistent with its attempts to roll back the clock on environmental progress. We are asking the court to make sure that our waters aren’t polluted while we make our case against the Trump Administration’s latest unlawful assault on the Clean Water Act.” 

“This legal action is critical for the protection of California’s remaining wetlands and vernal pools,” said Jared Blumenfeld, Secretary for California’s Environmental Protection Agency. “Wetlands are natural buffers against rising sea levels because they hold water like a sponge. Wetlands also help purify water from rivers and are host to many animals. Clean Water Act protections must be maintained and this legal action is an important first step in preventing another federal rollback.”

The definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act is critical to maintaining a strong federal foundation for water pollution control and water quality protection that preserves the integrity of our waters. While the Clean Water Act has resulted in dramatic improvements to water quality in the United States, its overriding objective has not yet been achieved. Many of the nation’s waters fail to meet water quality standards. The 2015 Clean Water Rule enacted during the Obama Administration provided much-needed clarity and consistency in federal Clean Water Act protections. It specifically includes within the scope of protected waters, the headwaters of rivers and creeks as well as other non-traditionally navigable waters, such as wetlands and ephemeral streams, which have significant impact on downstream water quality. 

Attorneys General Becerra and James, leading a multistate coalition, filed a lawsuit on May 1, 2020 challenging a Trump Administration final rule narrowing the definition of “waters of the United States” to remove protections for all ephemeral streams, many wetlands, and other waters that were previously covered under the Clean Water Act. Under the new rule, more than half of all wetlands and at least 18 percent of all streams would be left without federal protections. Western states like California would be even harder hit, with 35 percent of all streams deprived of federal protections as a result of the region’s dry climate.

In today’s filing, the coalition argues that a preliminary injunction is necessary to prevent significant and irreparable harm to waterways across California and the rest of the country. The Trump Administration’s “dirty water rule” weakens water quality protections for numerous waterways, allowing pollution into formerly protected streams and wetlands. In doing so, the rule threatens the habitat of many fish, birds, and other animal species, and paves the way for the filling of wetlands, hamstringing a critical instrument for flood mitigation. The rule’s sweeping changes to the regulatory landscape also threaten widespread disruption of state and local water and wetlands programs. In order to protect the integrity of the Nation’s waters and maintain programs that advance the Clean Water Act’s water quality objectives, it is essential that this damaging final rule does not go into effect.

In filing the motion for preliminary injunction, Attorneys General Becerra and James are joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. The California State Water Resources Control Board, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and the City of New York also joined the coalition in filing the lawsuit.

A copy of the motion can be found here.