NJ Joins Other States to Block Trump Attack on Clean Water Act

Tom Johnson | April 18, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Administration wants to roll back protection of tributaries, wetlands, and the like that shield downstream waters against pollution

delaware water gap natl park
New Jersey is joining with 13 other states and the District of Columbia to oppose the rollback of a key provision of the Clean Water Act, a step they contend would threaten water quality and likely increase flooding across the nation.

In joint comments to the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the attorneys general argued the proposed rule is contrary to the federal clean water law and would set back progress states have made in improving water quality.

The rule rollback has been a top environmental priority for President Donald Trump, reversing an Obama administration regulation that critics called a classic case of regulatory overreach. It extended protections to small streams, wetlands, and intermittent waterways.

Thinking downstream

Under President Barack Obama, the Waters of the United States rule sought to protect tributaries, wetlands, and intermittent waterways that shield downstream waters, a particular concern among states where pollution from neighboring states can degrade water quality.

The new rule proposal would narrow the definition of what waters would be subject to the Clean Water Act, a move that state environmental officials say would significantly limit the number of wetlands and waters afforded protections.

New Jersey has some of the strongest laws dealing with protections for waterways, including authority over most of the state’s freshwater wetlands. Rolling back federal protections over wetlands in other state could have a devastating effect even with strong safeguards in place in New Jersey, officials said.

“Watersheds span state borders, and so do the negative impacts of inappropriate development in wetlands,’’ said Diane Dow, director of the Division of Land Use at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in an attachment to the comments from the attorneys general.

“Protecting and restoring wetlands is an essential component in mitigating the effects of flooding in the state,’’ Dow added. From 1993 until April 2010, New Jersey experienced 1,241 floods, causing $1.25 billion in property damage and 14 deaths, she said.

Stripping watershed of protections

More than half of all streams in the Delaware River Watershed could be left without protections if the rule is adopted, according to an analysis performed by Environment America, a nonprofit group.

Besides New Jersey, California, New York, Maryland, New Mexico, Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Virginia, Connecticut, and Rhode Island joined in the comments to EPA. The comment period closed this week.

The issue already is in court with environmental groups like the Sierra Club challenging the Trump administration’s earlier decision to repeal the Obama-era regulation.