Environmentalists and ranchers are challenging President Donald Trump’s repeal of federal water protections. In two separate lawsuits, the groups take vastly different approaches to argue against the Trump administration’s replacement for the Waters of the U.S. rule, better known as WOTUS, that’s defines and protects navigable waterways.
The president began the process of killing this Obama era regulation back in 2018, but his administration finally put the nail in the coffin last week by publishing its new definition of WOTUS. Under this a new rule dubbed the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, many wetlands and small waterways—think streams and roadside ditches that eventually feed into larger ones—will no longer be protected under the Clean Water Act. Instead, the federal government is leaving it to states to determine how to regulate these waterways (if at all). That poses a major threat to not just waterways but drinking water around the U.S.
Environmental organizations were initially concerned that the agriculture industry would exploit this new definition. It turns out that some ranchers, at least, don’t just want to exploit it. They think the rule goes too far and want to go back to decades-old rules.
The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association filed its lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday. The group labeled the new rule as “unconstitutional,” and argued that it will cost ranchers tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in permitting costs. The ranchers go on to argue that the new rule’s language is too vague and labeled the new EPA definition as an “illegal interpretation of ‘navigable waters’ under the Clean Water Act.” The association doesn’t want to go back to the Obama rules; the suit is asking for a return to standards set in 1986 that are much more limited than even the new Trump rule.
Well, that’s one way to challenge things.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, environmental groups Chesapeake Bay Foundation and ShoreRivers filed a lawsuit Monday arguing that the new rule is in conflict with all that the Clean Water Act stands for. These groups are concerned for the health of the Chesapeake Bay of Maryland and Virginia, which has suffered pollution from run off. This new rule doesn’t offer more protections for the bay, the plaintiffs argue, because the streams and wetlands upstream aren’t covered. So these two groups are targeting the EPA’s allegedly flawed rule-making process, as well as the new rule’s conflict with the Clean Water Act, with the hopes of reinstating the original rule from 2015.
These groups may disagree on what’s wrong with the new rule, but they can at least agree that it blows (I guess?). These lawsuits mark the beginning of a long judicial process that may, at least, delay the rollout of the new rule. The future of these lawsuits could determine whether we regain protections or slide even further backwards.