Conservation Groups Challenge Repeal of Clean Water Act Protections in Federal Court

October 23, 2019

Press Release from American Rivers, Charleston Waterkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Rappahannock, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and the Southern Environmental Law Center

For Release: October 23, 2019


Southern Environmental Law Center, Kathleen Sullivan, 919-945-7106,


American Rivers, Amy Kober, 503-708-1145
Charleston Waterkeeper, Andrew Wunderley, 843-906-7073,
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Kevin Jeselnik, 404-352-9828,
Clean Water Action, Michael Kelly, 202-895-0420×103,
Defenders of Wildlife, Gwen Dobbs, 202-772-0269,
S.C. Coastal Conservation League, Lisa Jones Turansky, 843-723-8035,
Natural Resources Defense Council, Mark Drajem, 202-289-2436,

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Conservation groups today challenged in court the administration’s effort to strip away crucial clean water protections from rivers, lakes, streams and other waters that feed drinking-water sources for 200 million Americans and 32 million people in the South, or seven out of ten Southerners. The legal challenge, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, opens a major court battle over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ repeal of clean water protections under the Clean Water Act, one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws. The repeal of these standards is one of several steps announced by the administration to gut long-standing clean water protections, including a proposal currently subject to public comment that would leave many waters vulnerable to pollution and fill by redefining what waters are protected.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed today’s challenge on behalf of American Rivers, Charleston Waterkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Rappahannock, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.

The lawsuit contends that EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated a long-standing law that prohibits agencies from altering basic environmental safeguards without giving the public adequate notice and a chance to weigh in. According to the lawsuit, the agencies failed at their most basic responsibilities: evaluating the effect of their reckless actions and giving the public a meaningful opportunity to comment on their decision to eliminate scientifically backed protections for streams and wetlands.

Comments from the groups who filed in federal court today to protect clean water follow.

“Clean water is a way of life we take for granted in America, but now large polluters are trying to dismantle bipartisan water protections in place for almost 50 years,” said Blan Holman, a managing attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center which is representing the conservation groups in court. “The administration is pretending that pollution dumped upstream doesn’t flow downstream, but its plan puts the water used by hundreds of millions of Americans for drinking, bathing, fishing, and business at risk. We are going to court to protect clean water across the country.”

“Without the Clean Water Rule’s critical protections, innumerable small streams and wetlands that are essential for drinking water supplies, flood protection, and fish and wildlife habitat would be vulnerable to unregulated pollution, dredging and filling,” said Bob Irvin, president and CEO of American Rivers. “We will keep fighting for the Clean Water Rule because every American should have clean drinking water and healthy rivers.”

“This rollback threatens iconic Lowcountry wetlands like Carolina Bays and even some Cypress-Tupelo ponds,” said Andrew Wunderley, Charleston Waterkeeper. “We will not stand by and watch these important protections stripped away. It’s especially important to maintain these protections because there are not state or local protections for these wetland systems in the Lowcountry.”

“The only people who support this outrageous repeal are the corporate polluters who stand to benefit from making it easier to contaminate streams or to fill in wetlands, while burdening communities downstream with their pollution,” said Jennifer Peters, National Water Programs director for Clean Water Action. “Americans understand the importance of clean water and expect our government officials to do more, not less, to protect it. We’re going to fight this scheme, along with the rest of the Trump administration’s dirty water agenda.”

“The Trump administration’s latest attack on clean water is irresponsible and dangerous. The Clean Water Rule relied on science to clarify the scope of federal protections for wetlands and streams across the country. In the Southeast this meant greater protections for the pocosins, Carolina Bays, and Appalachian headwaters that provide sanctuary for our region’s rich array of wildlife. The Trump administration continues its callous disregard for human health and the environment,” said Ben Prater, Southeast Program director, Defenders of Wildlife.

“At a time when Americans face increased threats to their drinking water and increasingly intense and damaging storms and floods that threaten communities upstream and down,  we should be strengthening stream and wetland protections, not weakening them,” said Jim Murphy, director of Legal Advocacy, National Wildlife Federation. “Instead, the agencies’ repeal the Clean Water Rule and rollback of Clean Water Act protections threatens the drinking water supplies of more than 117 million Americans and more than 20 million wetland acres remaining in the continental U.S. The repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule will strip the protections that have prevented harmful pollution of the nation’s waterways for decades.” 

“Ending science-based protections for the streams our kids play in and fish from, along with wetlands that filter pollution and protect communities from flooding, is reckless and radical,” said Jon Devine, Director of Federal Water Policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Sadly we’ve come to expect these kinds of attacks on clean water over the last few years.”

The agencies have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.


For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.