Attorney General James Sues Trump’s EPA Over Replacement of Clean Water Rule

Coalition of AGs Argue Trump’s “Dirty Water Rule” Ignores 
Science and the Law, and Strips Our Nation’s Waters of Basic Protections 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James today co-led a coalition of 18 attorneys general and the City of New York in suing Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its new “Dirty Water Rule,” which eliminates legal protections for countless streams and wetlands across the country. The Trump Administration’s new rule replaces the 2015 Clean Water Rule, a science-based Obama-era federal regulation that ensured the nation’s bodies of water received proper protection under the Clean Water Act (CWA).  

“Trump’s ‘Dirty Water Rule’ is a reckless rollback of clean water protections,” said Attorney General James. “EPA’s new rule ignores science and the law by stripping our waters of basic protections under the Clean Water Act, putting our communities and our wildlife at risk. My office will work with attorneys general from across the nation to challenge this illegal and harmful regulation and continue the fight for our environment." 

In their suit, the coalition contends that the “Dirty Water Rule,” finalized on April 21, 2020, illegally excludes many streams and wetlands from the scope of the term, “waters of the United States (WOTUS),” which establishes which waters are protected by the CWA. The lawsuit argues that the new rule is contrary to the CWA’s objective to protect the quality and integrity of the nation’s waters. The “Dirty Water Rule” conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court precedent interpreting the CWA, and disregards EPA’s prior factual findings and longstanding policy and practice. The definition of WOTUS is critical for effective implementation of other key provisions of the CWA, including the establishment and achievement of water quality standards, certifications by states that federally-permitted facilities will comply with the Act and state law requirements, and control of oil spills. 

The Dirty Water Rule’s removal of protections for streams and wetlands under the CWA will result in more pollution, flooding, and harm to fish and wildlife in New York and across the country — undermining decades of work to protect and enhance water resources. 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.   

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.  

The lawsuit, co-led by Attorney General James and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, was filed today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Joining Attorney General James and Attorney General Becerra are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, and the City of New York. 

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.