Tribe, environmentalists fight rollback of US water rule — The Associated Press #DirtyWaterRule

Credit: Adam Zyglis Cagle Cartoons

From The Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan):

The nation’s largest Native American tribe and several environmental groups are waging a legal challenge to a revised federal rule that lifts protections for many streams, creeks and wetlands across the U.S.

The rule, which took effect Monday, narrows the types of waterways that qualify for federal protection under the half-century-old Clean Water Act. As a result, critics say the number of waterways across the Navajo Nation and other arid states in the West that were previously protected under the act have been drastically reduced.

Public health advocates, environmentalists and some Western states, among other opponents, had promised court fights once the rule was imposed, saying the rollback will leave many of the nation’s millions of miles of waterways more vulnerable to pollution.

“At this point in time, with climate change occurring around the world, it’s more prudent than ever to protect our land, water and air,” said Navajo President Jonathan Nez. “We, as Diné People, have a duty to preserve and conserve our natural resources to ensure that our future generations have access to clean water, air and land.”

The tribe filed its claim Monday in U.S. District Court in New Mexico.

Amigos Bravos, the New Mexico Acequia Association and the Gila Resources Information Project followed with their own appeal Tuesday and the Environmental Integrity Project filed a separate claim in Washington, D.C. on behalf of four other environmental groups. The cases name the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agencies in charge of administering aspects of the rule…

Paula Garcia, the executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association, said communities around the state rely on traditional irrigation systems that are fed by snow, rain and runoff for crops and livestock. With protections removed for the seasonal waterways that feed the acequia systems, she said agricultural livelihoods will be put at risk.

Rachel Conn with Amigos Bravos said the rule protects the interests of polluters. “The Trump administration has opened the pollution floodgates,” she said.

Under the new regulation, permits are no longer necessary for discharging pollution into many rivers, lakes and streams. Charles de Saillan, an attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said the effects could be felt by a number of businesses, from rafting companies to community farmers.

On the Navajo reservation, which spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, officials say there already are businesses not complying with tribal and federal environmental laws and the revised rule won’t help bring them into compliance…

New Mexico was among the states that went to court in May seeking to keep the rule from taking effect.

At the time, New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney warned that the rule would leave nearly 90% of the state’s rivers and streams and about 40% of its wetlands without federal protection. He predicted that would “devastate New Mexico’s scarce and limited water resources.”

The state had pointed out in comments previously submitted to the federal government that New Mexico has no state protections to fall back on. New Mexico is one of three states that don’t have delegated authority from the EPA to regulate discharges of pollution into rivers, streams, and lakes.

New Mexico Lakes, Rivers and Water Resources via Geology.com.

From Cronkite News (Ellie Borst) via Indian Country Today:

Two Arizona tribes and a Phoenix-based advocacy group joined a pair of lawsuits this week to reverse a Trump administration clean-water rule that critics said would open the “vast majority of Arizona’s waterways” to pollution and degradation.

The suits were filed Monday, the same day a new Environmental Protection Agency rule took effect replacing an Obama-era rule that expanded federal oversight to include seasonal and other waterways.

Critics said the old rule placed a huge burden on farmers and landowners and they unveiled the Trump administration plan in January as a “commonsense” solution.

But the lawsuits – one joined by Mi Familia Vota and the other by the Pascua Yaqui tribe and Tohono O’odham Nation – say the Trump administration’s replacement has virtually no protection, and that Americans “stand to lose their most important resource: clean water.” Mi Familia Vota CEO Hector Sanchez Barba derided the new regulation as the “Dirty Water Rule.”

“The widespread negative community impacts of the Dirty Water Rule are another demonstration that Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is not interested in protecting scientifically critical sources of water in our neighborhoods, communities, and states from polluting corporations,” Sanchez Barba said in a statement.

The suits are just the latest efforts to block the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, after a federal district judge in the Northern District of California on Friday rejected a push by 17 states to block implementation of the rule.

That allowed the rule to take effect except in Colorado: It had pursued its own case and won approval from a federal judge, also on Friday, blocking the Trump administration rule in that state…

Molly Block, EPA assistant deputy associate administrator for policy, said the agency is reviewing the latest lawsuits, but thanked the district judge in California for upholding the navigable waters rule last week.

“EPA and the Army are confident that the new rule provides much-needed regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, and businesses and protects the Nation’s navigable waters while striking an appropriate balance between federal and state authority over aquatic resources,” Block wrote in the email.

Arizona Rivers Map via Geology.com.

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