Press Releases

Attorney General William Tong



Repeal of 'Clean Water Rule' ignores science and the law, and strips our nation’s waters of basic protections

Attorney General William Tong joined a coalition of 16 attorneys general today in suing the Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) for rolling back regulations fundamental to improving and maintaining the health of the nation’s waters. The Trump Administration’s “Recodification Rule” repeals the Clean Water Rule, a science-based Obama-era federal regulation that ensured the nation’s lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands received proper protection under the Clean Water Act.

The Recodification Rule was finalized in October 2019, and replaced the 2015 Clean Water Rule’s definition of the waters protected by the Act with a narrower, outdated 30 year-old definition. This definition ignores the best and most current science on the connectivity of smaller or infrequently-flowing bodies of water, such as headwater streams, tributaries and wetlands to downstream “navigable” waters.

"This rule seeks to reverse decades of work to protect the nation's waters from pollution. Nothing is more vital to public health than clean, safe water. This rule jeopardizes the safety of the water used by millions of Americans. The Trump Administration's 'Recodification Rule' is a massive step backwards in controlling polluting discharges to our waterways," said Attorney General Tong. "Weakening federal rules over pollution control standards nationwide can only have disparate and negative consequences for downstream states. Connecticut stands with 16 other attorneys general in fighting to maintain the health of our waterways."

The basis for the 2015 Clean Water Rule was supported by 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific studies that concluded that many of the nation’s larger waters are connected upstream headwaters, intermittent streams, wetlands, and tributaries. Because of this interconnectivity, when wetlands and relatively small or infrequently-flowing upland streams are subjected to physical, chemical or biological pollution, this pollution often harms downstream waters such as rivers, lakes, estuaries and oceans.

The coalition argues that Trump Administration’s reversion to the 1986 definition of the waters protected under the Clean Water Act is arbitrary and capricious, and violates the Administrative Procedure Act. For example, the Recodification Rule is illegal because it does not consider the Clean Water Act’s sole objective of protecting the integrity of the nation’s waters nor does it comply with subsequent Supreme Court precedent. Further, the Rule, as adopted, fails to consider scientific and factual findings – established in the 2015 Clean Water Rule rulemaking – on the interconnectivity of waters.

All of the lower 48 states have waters that are downstream of other states. Several 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.

In addition to Attorney General Tong, today’s action, which was led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, includes the attorneys general of California, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, District of Columbia, and the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York.

Assistant Attorneys General David Wrinn and Matthew Levine, Head of the Environment Department assisted the Attorney General with this matter.
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