Federal Judge Restores Obama-Era Protections for Streams, Marshes, and Wetlands

Image: Excel23 via Wikimedia Commons

By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor


A federal judge has thrown out a Trump administration environmental rollback that scaled back federal protections for the nation’s streams, marshes, and wetlands. Despite support from farm and business groups, the federal judge ruled that the rollback could lead to “serious environmental harm.” Environmental groups are celebrating the decision, which will reinstate protections for Americans’ drinking water supplies and wetland wildlife.

Why This Matters: Drinking water is a rapidly disappearing resource, and millions of Americans are experiencing water shortages and mandatory water use cuts. A “mega drought” in the U.S. west has pushed the Colorado river to record lows, triggering the first-ever water shortage declaration for the river and Lake Mead, which provide drinking water to 40 million people. As heatwaves and increasing natural disasters sweep the U.S., the public demand for clean, accessible drinking water is on the rise. To meet this demand, the nation will have to protect at least 30% of all public lands and waters by 2030.

Islands in the Stream

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Márquez wrote in her decision that Trump officials made serious errors while finalizing the new, looser version of the Obama Era Navigable Waters Protection Rule. The rule builds on the 1972 Clean Water Act, which protects the “waters of the United States” by explicitly protecting a broader category of waters, including “ephemeral” systems that may only appear after rainfall and help improve water quality in larger bodies.

Márquez asserted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees permits to dredge and fill waterways, determined that 75% of its reviewed water bodies did not qualify for protection. Three hundred thirty-three waterway projects that would have required a review under the Obama-era regulation were excluded under the Trump rollback.

The decision is a win for Indigenous and environmental groups, which pushed the federal court to overturn the rollback in less time than it would take the Biden administration to rewrite the regulations. Christian Hunt, the Southeast program representative for Defenders of Wildlife, says that the decision already impacts Georgia, where a titanium strip-mining operation threatened the Okefenokee Swamp. “This is a welcome day for the Okefenokee, the wetlands surrounding the refuge, and will force Twin Pines to reevaluate this disastrous project,” he said.

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