Waters of the United States:Advocating for tools that protect our clean water.
One Hundred Miles believes we must work with friends and residents of our coast to ensure coastal Georgia’s future includes robust economic development balanced with conservation.
For this reason, we built our organization to focus in three major areas we feel will lead to the preservation and enhancement of our coastal wildlife, landscapes, and communities.
- Decisions about growth made by citizens and local governments in our coastal communities have a tremendous impact on our natural resources. One Hundred Miles is committed to working with our communities to promote solutions that enable both growth and the conservation of our coastal resources.
- At present, an abundance of work is being done to study our coastal resources, advocate for their protection, educate the public, and promote conservation; however, there is often a lack of collaborative effort. One Hundred Miles pledges to celebrate, promote, and – most importantly – help connect the good work happening here in coastal Georgia so that it can be understood and used in ways that benefit all.
- The laws that protect Georgia’s coastal resources are some of the most important tools we have to help us achieve the balance between economic development and coastal conservation. But laws are limited by the extent to which they can be understood and enforced. And, they must remain relevant as time passes. Like many organizations before us, One Hundred Miles promises to block unnecessary rollbacks of our coastal protections. But we also vow to work with legislators, stakeholders, and representatives at our state agencies to update and improve these laws.
We are involved in many projects that help us execute these commitments – including our first legal challenge. After much deliberation, One Hundred Miles has decided to engage in litigation to help us both defend and strengthen the United States Clean Water Act (CWA or the Act).
Passed in 1972, the CWA is an important tool for protecting Georgia’s coast as it establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into water. The CWA’s jurisdiction extends to all “waters of the United States (WOTUS),” but when the Act was passed, Congress did not define the term “waters of the United States.” As a result, the CWA’s reach has historically been unclear, and it remains so today.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) are the two federal agencies responsible for administering the Act. In 1986, in response to a US Supreme Court decision, they worked together to redefine WOTUS. This new definition was highly protective and many thought it overreached. As such, the rule faced significant challenges. In 2001 and 2006, the US Supreme Court decided two additional cases that necessitated another rewrite of the WOTUS definition.
After much delay the two agencies undertook a new and difficult rulemaking process in 2012. While more than 80% of the more than 1 million commenters were supportive, others opposed the rule. Their reasons ran the gamut from concerns about impacts to private property to fears that the rule was not protective enough.
The EPA and ACOE issued the final rule on June 29, 2015. We believe that this rule was necessary to clarifying the term “waters of the United States,” which is the core element of the CWA. Without a clear definition, the CWA is ineffective. While not as strong as the 1986 definition, the new definition of WOTUS provides vital protections to many vulnerable waters and wetlands in coastal Georgia.
The Legal Challenge
One day after the final rule was issued, the states of Georgia, West Virginia, Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin challenged the rule in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. These states seek to overturn the rule in its entirety because they contend that it dramatically broadens the scope of the definition of “waters of the United States” and violates their sovereign authority. Other states and a diverse group of stakeholders have filed similar cases in district courts and courts of appeals across the country.
The Path Forward
At One Hundred Miles, we do not take the decision to litigate lightly. We participated in the process to define WOTUS throughout the past two years. After reviewing CWA cases in Georgia, we firmly believe the new rule is an improved definition of “waters of the United States;” and, as a result, strengthens our ability to help protect Georgia’s coast. And, perhaps most importantly, we believe that the new rule balances environmental conservation and economic development. We are working with a legal team to ensure we have a seat at the table so we can defend and improve the new WOTUS rule.
One Hundred Miles is committed to protecting the integrity of the regulatory tools that protect our coastal resources. Please do not hesitate to email Megan Desrosiers or call our office at 912-264-4111 if you have any questions about our position on this matter.
As always, we are grateful for your support.