Attorney General James Seeks to Halt Trump Administration’s Reckless “Dirty Water Rule”

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today co-led a multistate coalition in filing a motion for a preliminary injunction in an ongoing lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s unlawful final rule redefining the “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. The rule narrows the scope of the Clean Water Act, meaning many of our nations wetlands and streams would be stripped of protections. The coalition, which is suing over the rule, is asking the court to immediately halt its implementation while the case continues to prevent widespread harm to our nation’s waters.

“Clean water is a critically valuable resource that we must protect at all costs,” said Attorney General James. “The Trump Administration’s rule is dangerous and should be stopped before it causes irreparable damage to public health, safety, and our environment. I am proud to stand with this coalition of attorneys general to fight for our environment.”

Attorney General James and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, 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. Further, all of the lower 48 states have waters that are downstream of other states, and New York, for example, is downstream of 13 states. As such, New York and other states are recipients of water pollution generated not only within their borders, but also from upstream sources outside their borders, over which they lack jurisdiction. Additionally, downstream states like New York will be forced to spend more funds to clean up the pollution from upstream states that refuse to properly safeguard their waters. The “Dirty Water Rule” also puts New York at a competitive disadvantage by incentivizing industry polluters to relocate to upstream states with less stringent water quality protections, while disrupting New York’s clean water regulatory programs.  

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.

In today’s filing, the coalition argues that a preliminary injunction is necessary to prevent significant and irreparable harm to waterways in New York and across 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 wildlife 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 preliminary injunction, Attorney General James is joined by the attorneys general of California, 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.  

Since 2017, no other state attorney general’s office has taken more legal actions against federal agencies regarding issues related to the environment than the Office of the New York Attorney General. New York has taken more than 130 legal actions against the Trump Administration in the areas of safety and toxic chemicals, public lands and wildlife, clean energy and energy efficiency, clean air, clean water, and climate change.  

This matter is being handled by the Environmental Protection Bureau of the New York Attorney General’s Office and is led by Assistant Attorneys General Philip Bein and Timothy Hoffman, Deputy Bureau Chief Monica Wagner, Environmental Scientists Jennifer Nalbone and Charles Silver, and Policy Analyst Jeremy Magliaro, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux, all under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.