North Carolina has joined a multistate lawsuit opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently published final rule defining “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act.
The state Department of Environmental Quality Friday joined with Attorney General Josh Stein and 16 states in filing suit on the rule set to take effect on June 22, the state announced.
“This rule threatens decades of improvements in water quality and endangers North Carolina’s unique wetlands,” said DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan in a statement. “This historic rollback of protections will result in a significant loss of natural resources and it is not based on science and runs counter to decades of EPA policy. DEQ will continue to use the state’s authority to protect water quality and the associated economic benefits to North Carolina.”
The new rule arbitrarily narrows the existing definition of waters protected under the Clean Water Act and excludes many of the state’s wetlands, which play a critical role in filtering pollution and slowing stormwater during flooding events, according to DEQ. “The new rule also reduces protections for drinking water sources, risks damage to our fishing industry and increases flooding risks from runoff and sea-level rise.”
North Carolina joins California, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Massachusetts And Virginia, Washington, D.C. and New York City in the challenge.
In joint comments on the proposed rule in April 2019, DEQ and the attorney general advocated for a science-based approach to defining the Waters of the United States to preserve water quality and provide clarity for landowners.
“DEQ objected to arbitrary changes in defining protected waters and raised concerns about the regulatory gap created by the changes that would need to be filled by new rules, laws and personnel to protect wetlands,” according to the announcement. “DEQ also raised concerns about the increased burden on underfunded, understaffed regulatory agencies that work in partnership with the federal government to protect wetlands nation-wide. The EPA final rule does not address the concerns raised in those comments.”
Earlier this week, several environmental and conservation groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center also filed a lawsuit challenging the rule.