Grewal joins lawsuit to block EPA rule narrowing wetlands protection

TRENTON, NJ — Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe announced May 4 that New Jersey has filed suit to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from enacting a rule that eliminates long-standing federal protections for many wetlands, fresh water resources and coastal waters in New Jersey, neighboring states and across the country.

Scheduled to take effect on June 22, the administration’s final “Navigable Waters Protection Rule” was issued jointly in January of this year by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The rule significantly narrows the scope of waters subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act, and is an effort by EPA to roll back water quality protections clarified and fortified under the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule of 2015.

Filed in U.S. District Court in California, the multistate lawsuit seeks to have the new EPA rule rescinded because, according to the lawsuit, it conflicts with the plain language of the Clean Water Act, U.S. Supreme Court precedent and the EPA’s own scientific findings.

“It has never been more important to protect our environment, which has a direct link to the health of our residents,” Grewal said. “But EPA is doing just the opposite, rolling back critical rules that protect our waters. This rule is yet another example of EPA disregarding the law and placing industry over our natural resources, and we are committed to fighting it in court.”

“New Jersey’s wetlands, fresh water resources and coastal waters are invaluable parts of New Jersey’s ecosystem and way of life,” McCabe said. “We strongly oppose any threat to New Jersey’s water, including EPA’s final Navigable Waters Protection Rule. I am proud to join with Attorney General Grewal and California, New York and other states in opposition to the new rule.”

As part of the legal challenge, New Jersey intends to provide the court with a declaration from DEP asserting that the rule will irrevocably harm vital waters and wetlands in the state — wetlands and waters relied upon for drinking water, wildlife habitats, agriculture and recreation, among other things. 

While New Jersey has strong laws and regulations to protect its wetlands and waters, they do not exist in a vacuum, and EPA’s rollback means that greater pollution will flow downstream into state waters from adjacent states, according to Grewal. The rollback poses a threat to important wildlife in New Jersey such as certain waterfowl, fish and shellfish. In addition, the harm done to wetlands could put more lives and property at risk in the future, because wetlands are an integral component of flood abatement and coastal storm damage mitigation.