Local environmental advocates join in filing an intervention request to protect hundreds of thousands of miles of waterways that could be polluted and destroyed if certain Clean Water Act protections are eliminated.

TULSA – Waterkeeper Alliance, Grand Riverkeeper, and Tar Creekkeeper are requesting to intervene in two Oklahoma federal district court lawsuits—one filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and one filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups—they claim seek to strip federal Clean Water Act protections from whole categories of waterways throughout the United States.

The conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, David Page of Barber & Bartz, and Kelly Hunter Foster of Waterkeeper Alliance, filed their intervention request in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma on Sept. 4 to protect the hundreds of thousands of miles of critically important streams, rivers, lakes, and other waters that could be polluted and destroyed if Clean Water Act protections for these types of waters are eliminated.

The groups seek to intervene in suits filed against the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers; the suits attempt to undermine fundamental aspects of the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act, leaving important bodies of water, fisheries, and drinking water supplies unprotected against pollution discharges, dredging, and filling. These protections could be eliminated at a time when more than half the streams and rivers in the United States assessed by state agencies are already categorized as “impaired” by pollution under the Clean Water Act.

“It is imperative that we be allowed to intervene in these lawsuits to protect the Clean Water Act and everyone who depends upon it,” explained Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director for Waterkeeper Alliance. “Currently, all of the parties to the lawsuits are in cahoots and working toward the same goal—to dangerously narrow the scope of waters protected under federal law. Everyone who uses and enjoys waterways across the country for drinking, fishing, and recreation deserves representation in these lawsuits as well.”

Hunter’s suit, which is challenging a 2015 rule that defined which waters are protected, is based on the faulty premise that the federal government’s jurisdiction was previously limited to interstate waters, or large bodies of water; and he wrongly claims that the 2015 rule would expand the Clean Water Act, allowing the federal government to “regulate virtually all land and bodies of water across the United States.”

“The Clean Water Act, as should be apparent from its name alone, does not regulate land—with or without this rule,” said Rebecca Jim, Tar Creekkeeper. “Similarly, the Clean Water Act has never been limited to protecting interstate waters or large bodies of water. It has protected rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, and coastal waters for the last 40 years, in every corner of the country, as intended by Congress. These lawsuits are an obvious attempt to eliminate those long-standing protections.”

“A ruling by this court that adopts an interpretation of the Clean Water Act advanced by the plaintiffs would undermine the Waterkeepers’ efforts to protect the broad jurisdiction that Congress envisioned for the Clean Water Act,” said Earl Hatley, Grand Riverkeeper. “It would prejudice our ability to protect our waters—the waters our members depend on for drinking, fishing, and swimming.”