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Oregon, Washington, California sue to save WOTUS

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West Coast joins 10-state coalition that files lawsuit in New York to preserve 2015 Clean Water Rule

Oregon, Washington, California and seven other states sued the Trump administration Tuesday to rescue the Obama-era Clean Water Rule.

The states, joined by the District of Columbia, claim that discarding the 2015 rule’s definition of “waters of the United States” will leave them vulnerable to pollution flowing across their borders.

“I won’t allow the Trump administration to continue to ignore the law to try to undermine important environmental rules simply because it doesn’t like them,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement.

The lawsuit, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, was filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern New York on the same day as the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers finalized suspending the rule until at least Feb. 6, 2020.

The delay will give the agencies time to reconsider the 2015 rule. In the meantime, a 1980s definition of the waters covered by the Clean Water Act will remain in force.

Before Trump’s EPA suspended the rule, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had issued a nationwide stay. Previously, a U.S. district judge in North Dakota blocked the rule in 13 states, including Idaho.

“It’s worth noting that these lawsuits are over an embattled legislation that’s been put on hold by the courts to prevent it from taking effect. Our delay rule will keep in place that status quo,” an EPA spokeswoman said in an email.

The rule sets the reach of the Clean Water Act. The American Farm Bureau Federation in earlier statements warned that the 2015 rule would expand the act’s jurisdiction to ditches and low spots that are only occasionally wet and would expose farmers to citizen lawsuits for activities as routine as plowing a field.

States have been suing to overturn or uphold the 2015 rule. In an announcement Feb. 1 in the Federal Register, the EPA and Corps said the two-year suspension heads off the possibility that conflicting federal court decisions will cause the rule to vary between states.

“The scope of (Clean Water Act) jurisdiction is an issue of national importance and therefore the agencies will endeavor to provide for robust deliberations and public engagement as they re-evaluate the definitions of ‘waters of the United States,’” according to the notice.

Ferguson has sued the Trump administration 21 times. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a fellow Democrat, said the latest suit seeks to protect “our economy and our quality of life.”

“This (Trump) administration’s continual efforts to roll back crucial protections for our nation’s beautiful spaces and the health and safety of all Americans will not go unchecked,” Inslee said in a statement.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined the lawsuit. In addition to New York, the other states involved are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont.

 

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