Minneapolis, MN – Fifty-one percent of the state’s streams, including those feeding Minnesota lakes, will regain federal protections under a final rule signed today by top Obama administration officials. The Clean Water Rule restores Clean Water Act safeguards to small streams and wetlands that have been vulnerable to development and pollution for nearly ten years.
"Minnesota lakes – where we swim, fish, and go boating – only be clean if we protect the streams that feed them,” said John Rumpler, Senior Attorney for Environment Minnesota. “That’s why today’s action is the biggest victory for clean water in a decade.”
By closing a loophole created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, today’s rule returns Clean Water Act protections to streams that feed the drinking water sources for over 978,000 Minnesotans and one in three Americans. Millions of acres of wetlands, vital for flood control and filtering pollutants, will also again be shielded under federal law.
The court rulings had put small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands in a perilous legal limbo, allowing polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without a permit. In a four-year period following the decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop more than 1500 cases against polluters, according to one analysis by the New York Times.
First proposed in March 2014, the joint rule by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backed by robust scientific review and has gained broad support across a wide range of constituencies. Mayors, brewers, kayakers, anglers, small businesses, and farmers – including Don Ness, Mayor of Duluth, Midwest Mountaineering, and Lake Superior Brewing Company – joined a throng of citizens to submit more than 800,000 comments in favor of the rule last fall.
“Minnesota’s lakes and water function, in many ways, as the lifeblood of our community,” said Minneapolis City Council Member, Jacob Frey. “We must take action now to protect our rivers, streams, and wetlands for future generations, and I’m thrilled that the EPA is doing just that.”
Environment Minnesota has been campaigning to restore these clean water protections for nearly a decade. In the past year alone, the organization gathered over 15,000 comments in support of the rule, released research reports to the media, and met with federal officials to counter heavy industry lobbying in opposition.
"The Mississippi River is a treasure for our city and the nation," said Saint Paul City Council President Russ Stark. "Thanks to EPA's clean water rule, the streams that feed this mighty river are once again protected under federal law."
Despite broad public support for restored clean water protections, oil and gas companies, developers, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them. The U.S. House has passed multiple bills to block or severely weaken the rule, including one measure as recently as two weeks ago. Polluters and their allies have now turned their sights on the Senate, where lawmakers could take up a bill to kill the rule soon after the Memorial Day recess.
“Today the administration signed and sealed critical protections for Minnesota’s lakes, but they simply won’t get delivered without Senator Klobuchar,” said Rumpler.
Environment Minnesota is statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentMinnesota.org