Clean Water Defense

Attacks on Clean Water

Fighting threats to our most important public health and environmental protections.

The United States is experiencing a massive and multi-pronged attack on federal environmental statutes, regulations, enforcement, and funding by the President, Congress and numerous regulatory agencies. These attacks, undertaken on behalf of the richest, most polluting corporations in the world, threaten our nation’s most important public health and environmental protections and the very foundations of our democracy.  

Congress is considering legislation that will slash funding for environmental programs and fundamentally alter key provisions of major environmental laws like the Clean Water Act (CWA), National Environmental Policy Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and other statutes that are central to our mission. Whereas experts at the federal agencies would have historically provided key scientific and policy testimony to oppose this effort, the agencies now are being led by people who lack this knowledge and often actually support weakening federal environmental laws and regulations. We are witnessing unprecedented administrative action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies to weaken environmental protections by rolling back or eliminating regulations, ceasing investigations and enforcement, limiting funding for programs and cutting or replacing staff.

Waterkeeper Alliance helps lead the opposition to this ideological assault on the laws and systems that have protected public health and the environment for more than four decades. We believe that grassroots organizing, advocacy and litigation, combined with coordinated national action with our network of diverse coalition partners, is the most effective way to prevent the destruction of our nation’s environmental laws and regulatory programs. In addition to advocacy and litigation at the national level, Waterkeeper Alliance is one of the only international water advocacy organizations with the power of a connected network of community-based grassroots advocates who have the earned trust of, and the ability to mobilize, thousands of individuals in the fight for clean water.

Informing the Public

In response to these threats, Waterkeeper Alliance launched Dive Into Democracy, a weekly roundup of current attacks on America’s clean water protections that includes straightforward language about the threats and instructions on how to take action.

Protecting the Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act is under attack from both Congress and EPA. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has placed a high priority on dramatically reducing the numbers and types of waters that can be protected against pollution and destruction under the Clean Water Act. There are similar efforts proposed in Congress. At the same time, there are bills in Congress seeking to severely limit the ability for private citizens and groups to enforce the Clean Water Act, exempt pesticides from Clean Water Act permitting requirements, and relaxing Clean Water Act requirements for municipal wastewater discharges. We are committed to stopping the attacks on the Clean Water Act in Congress, before EPA and in the courts.

Fighting “Regulatory Reform,” Anti-Environment Legislation and EPA Budget Cuts

The administration and Congress are aggressively seeking to eliminate environmental regulations through Executive Orders and a host of legislation intended to reduce “regulatory burden” on industry without consideration of the impacts to public health and the environment. Waterkeeper Alliance is monitoring these efforts and is taking legal and other actions to oppose them.

Waterkeeper Alliance, Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates and our partners are aggressively opposing legislation to weaken federal environmental laws and cut key EPA programs through budget reductions and riders. Major legislative threats include attacking citizen suit power, exempting CAFOs from environmental laws, limiting the role of science in creating regulations, weakening Safe Drinking Water Standards, and crippling the EPA’s ability to investigate and bring enforcement actions against polluters through budget cuts.

Challenging EPA Efforts to Rollback Regulations

Waterkeeper Alliance frequently brings litigation to address EPA failures to implement federal environmental laws. Recently, we have:

  • Filed litigation against EPA under the Clean Water Act for the agency’s failure to ensure that New York adopts pathogen water quality criteria that protect the health of people recreating in coastal waters.
  • In April 2017, we obtained a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that overturns a 2008 EPA regulation that allowed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to evade federal reporting requirements for their dangerous emissions of hazardous air pollutants.  In July, the court denied an attempt by the pork and poultry industry’s petition to the court to rehear the case. Pursuant to the Court’s decision, CAFOs must – like other polluting industries – disclose their toxic emissions and notify government officials when air pollution levels exceed public safety thresholds.  The Court has delayed implementation of its order until November 14, 2017 to allow EPA to develop compliance guidance for the industry.
  • The administration is aggressively seeking to eliminate environmental regulations through Executive Orders to reduce “regulatory burden” on industry without consideration of the impacts to public health and the environment. In May 2017, Waterkeeper Alliance, along with 121 U.S. Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates, submitted comments to EPA in opposition to its proposal to withdraw, modify or revoke EPA regulations under the President’s Executive Order No. 13777. The comments demonstrated that EPA has non-discretionary legal duties to protect our health, air, lands, and waters from pollution and lacks authority to eliminate protective environmental regulations for the sole purpose of reducing industry’s “burden.”
  • The administration has placed a high priority on dramatically reducing the numbers and types of waters that can be protected against pollution and destruction under the Clean Water Act. Waterkeeper Alliance, Waterkeeper Organizations/Affiliates and our partners are committed to stopping this in Congress, before the EPA and in the courts.
    • Waterkeeper Alliance, five Waterkeepers Organizations, the Center for Biological Diversity and other partners are engaged in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court litigation regarding the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers regulation redefining “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act to ensure to protect broad Clean Water Act jurisdiction.
    • Waterkeeper Alliance is working with Waterkeeper Organizations to oppose the two-step EPA and Corps process to redefine “waters of the United States” in an illegal manner that will endanger public health and water quality across the nation.  Waterkeeper Alliance will file suit to oppose any definition that rolls back Clean Water Act jurisdiction from historical levels.  

Opposing Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator

Waterkeeper Alliance conducted extensive research on Scott Pruitt’s record, and worked extensively to document and expose his anti-environment stances and practices, as well as his divergence with well-established norms. Senate Democrats on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hosted a panel discussion to further examine EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt’s environmental record and highlight his lack of qualifications needed to lead the agency. Waterkeeper Alliance’s Senior Attorney Kelly Hunter Foster spoke as an expert witness; as the former Environmental Protection Unit Chief in the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, she is uniquely familiar with Pruitt’s dangerous environmental track record.