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AG Ferguson: Court strikes down Trump’s attempt to gut Clean Water Act

Ruling blocks a Trump-era rule that limits states’ ability to protect water quality

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that the court vacated, effective immediately and nationwide, the Trump Administration’s attempt to dismantle key environmental protections in section 401 of the Clean Water Act.

In July 2020, Washington, New York and California co-led a broad coalition of 17 other states and the District of Columbia in filing a lawsuit against the new section 401 rules, which handcuffed states’ ability to police a wide range of water pollution and related environmental damage.

This ruling, issued today, is Ferguson’s 43rd win against a Trump administration action. Over half of these wins are in environmental protection related cases.

“While Trump was in office, his administration did everything it could to yield to the interests of polluting industries,” Ferguson said. “Today’s ruling stopped one of his most egregious attempts to strip states’ ability to protect their communities against threats to water quality.”

Case background

On July 13, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published final changes to rules implementing section 401 of the Clean Water Act regarding states’ certification of water quality. This section allows states and tribal nations to protect health and human safety within their geographic boundaries by making permitting decisions related to the water quality impacts from federally-approved projects. For example, Washington has long used Section 401 to ensure that federally-licensed hydropower projects incorporate critical water quality protections.

The Trump Administration rule handicapped states’ abilities to regulate water quality, reversing fifty years of long-held and effective state and tribal water quality regulation.

The case, co-led by Washington, New York and California and joined by a broad coalition of 17 other states and the District of Columbia, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The states argued the EPA’s new rule unlawfully violated the plain language, intent and established case law interpreting the Clean Water Act.

The rule would have forced states to issue permits based on an incomplete review of what effects industries will have on waterways, even when the consequences cause far-reaching and even irreversible environmental damage. The rule also limits the amount of information industry must provide, unreasonably reduces the amount of time states have to make decisions or deny permits and attempts to grant the federal government oversight of projects rather than states.

Joining Washington, California and New York in filing the lawsuit were Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

Assistant Attorneys General Kelly Wood and Gabrielle Gurian are leading the case for Washington.

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Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Media Contact:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

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