For Immediate Release, January 23, 2020

Contact:

Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121, bhartl@biologicaldiversity.org

Trump Administration Slashes Protections for Millions of Acres of Streams, Wetlands

Move Puts More Than 75 Endangered Species on Fast Track to Extinction

WASHINGTON— The Trump administration finalized a plan today to slash Clean Water Act protections for streams, rivers and millions of acres of wetlands, allowing those water bodies to be destroyed or polluted without any meaningful restrictions.

The loss of protections triggered by today’s rule will ultimately accelerate the extinction of more than 75 endangered species, including Chiricahua leopard frogs, steelhead trout and yellow-billed cuckoos.

“This sickening gift to polluters will allow wetlands, streams and rivers across a vast stretch of America to be obliterated with pollution,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “People and wildlife need clean water to thrive. Destroying half of our nation’s streams and wetlands will be one of Trump’s ugliest legacies. We’ll absolutely be fighting it in court.”

Today’s final rule limits protections only to wetlands and streams that are “physically and meaningfully connected” to larger navigable bodies of water. The radical change will virtually eliminate the Clean Water Act’s protections across the arid West, from West Texas to Southern California, including most of New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.

An analysis by the Center parallels leaked government documents that estimate the final rule will dramatically reduce Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands across more than 3,000 watersheds in the western United States. Arizona and New Mexico could lose protections for more than 95% of their water bodies under the rule finalized today by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

President Trump’s Executive Order 13778 required the federal agencies to protect only those waters that have “a relatively permanent surface connection” to a traditionally navigable body of water such as a major river — a myopic legal interpretation that ignores the complex hydrology of the arid western states. The executive order followed the minority legal view of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, which was never adopted by the Supreme Court.

In rushing to comply with Trump’s executive order, the agencies violated both the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act. Both laws require the federal government to “look before you leap” and ensure that the environmental consequences of a particular action will not cause unintended environmental damage.

“This is the darkest day in the 50-year history of the Clean Water Act,” said Hartl. “Left unchecked, Trump’s giveaway to special interests will foul our water, harm human health, and condemn wildlife to extinction for generations to come.”

WOTUS map
WOTUS map by Center for Biological Diversity. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.