Business Groups Are Suing The EPA Over Its New Drinking Water Protections

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Multiple business groups have filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers in an attempt to strike down the federal government’s new water protection rule.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses, and three other groups sued the agencies Friday over the Waters of the United States rule, which protects two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands that hadn’t before been regulated under the Clean Water Act. The groups alleged that the rule, which was finalized in May, “disrupts the careful balance” between states’ ability to use and develop water and the federal government’s ability to regulate it.

“By broadly redefining the ‘waters of the United States,’ the agencies have asserted unprecedented authority to regulate the nation’s waters,” the lawsuit reads. “In doing so, the agencies have exceeded their power under the Clean Water Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiffs bring this action to stop this extraordinary expansion of federal authority.”

The lawsuit also claims that businesses will “suffer real economic harm…because they will be forced to submit to expensive, vague, burdensome, and time-consuming federal regulations before they can perform the most mundane of activities on their property.” Despite these burdens, the lawsuit adds, the rule won’t make any real difference environmentally.

The EPA and some environmental groups dispute that claim. According to the EPA, the rule protects bodies of water that serve as a drinking source for one out of every three Americans. Groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council have praised the rule, though others like the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity remain concerned that the rule doesn’t go far enough environmentally.

Some business groups have also come out in support of the rule. In May, New Belgium Brewing Company testified in front of Congress, noting that clean water is crucial to beer-making.

“Our brewery and our communities depend on clean water,” said Andrew Lemley, a government affairs representative for the company. “Beer is, after all, over 90 percent water and if something happens to our source water the negative affect on our business is almost unthinkable.”

Dozens of other craft brewing companies, including Allagash Brewing Company and Sierra Nevada, joined the NRDC’s Brewers For Clean Water Campaign in support of the EPA’s new regulation.

According to a 2014 American Sustainable Business Council poll, 80 percent of small business owners approved of the protections proposed in the Waters of the U.S. rule, and 71 percent thought that protecting water was “necessary to ensure economic growth.”

With their lawsuit, the large business groups join coal company Murray Energy and twelve other organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Association, in legally opposing the rule. They also join 22 states that have filed lawsuits, including North Dakota, Alaska, Arizona, West Virginia, and Colorado.

“This rule is a staggering overreach by the federal government and violates the very law it claims to enforce,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in June. “It will have dire consequences for homeowners, farmers and other entities by forcing them to navigate a complex federal bureaucracy and obtain costly permits in order to perform everyday tasks like digging ditches, building fences, or spraying fertilizers.”

The rule has also been met with Congressional opposition, as bills seeking to undermine it have been introduced in both the House and Senate. The House bill, which seeks to block the proposal, was passed in May. The Senate bill has yet to come to a vote.