Georgia leads in lawsuit to overturn EPA clean water rule

Georgia and eight other states filed a federal lawsuit against the Obama administration’s new clean water rule Tuesday, part of a nationwide charge that could wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Filed in federal court in the Southern District of Georgia and led by state Attorney General Sam Olens, the suit seeks to toss out a new regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would allow the government to regulate tributaries to rivers and streams under the Clean Water Act.

The advocacy group Environment Georgia calculated that 39,986 miles of Georgia streams — 57 percent — would now come under the purview of the two agencies, meaning people and businesses would need to obtain federal permits to fill the streams or pollute them.

Long-standing farming exemptions would remain, but farm and industry organizations have aggressively fought the rule — along with Republicans in Congress. The agencies released the final rule in late May.

The group of attorneys general in Georgia's suit is all Republican, except Kentucky Democrat Jack Conway, who is running for governor of the conservative-leaning state. The move comes one day after the Supreme Court ruled against the EPA on a clean air rule, saying the agency did not properly take industry costs into account.

An additional 18 states have challenged the rule with lawsuits in Texas, Ohio and North Dakota.

Georgia's suit claims the water rule is "an attempt by two agencies of the federal government to usurp the States' primary responsibility for the management, protection, and care of intrastate waters and lands."

The Clean Water Act allows the government to limit pollution in “navigable” waterways. The Obama administration says because tributaries feed into these waterways, they, too, should be protected from pollution.

“Clean water is critical to our livelihoods and the vitality of Georgia’s communities,” Environment Georgia Director Jennette Gayer said in a statement.

“EPA’s Clean Water Rule helps to make sure Georgians have access to the clean water they need for drinking, commerce and recreation. Since the rule restores protections to streams and other waterways that have historically been protected by the Clean Water Act, it is hard to understand the Attorney General’s prediction of ‘dire consequences.’ ”