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Washington, Ferguson join lawsuit against Trump administration water pollution rule

UPDATED: Tue., July 21, 2020

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson looks on during a news conference on Dec. 17 in Seattle. He has joined a suit against the Trump administration over changes to environmental reviews of federal projects.  (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson looks on during a news conference on Dec. 17 in Seattle. He has joined a suit against the Trump administration over changes to environmental reviews of federal projects. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

Washington has joined a multistate lawsuit against the Trump administration, alleging the federal government is reducing state government authority in determining whether a building project will affect water quality.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in California, is being brought on behalf of 20 states and Washington, D.C., alleging a federal rule taking effect Sept. 11 will reduce the ability of local governments to review federal building plans for energy infrastructure projects for potential conflicts with water pollution laws. A significant majority of the states that joined the lawsuit are governed by Democrats, but the Republican-led states of Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont also are part of the legal action.

The Trump administration says the new rule will speed up the construction of projects that include dams, natural gas pipelines and storage facilities for U.S.-harvested coal headed to foreign markets.

“Instead of protecting the environment, this administration is yielding to polluting industries and undermining a key tool states use to protect their water,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a frequent opponent of President Donald Trump in court, said in a statement.

Trump issued an executive order in April 2019 calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new rules that would end “confusion and uncertainty” caused by a provision in the federal Clean Water Act that gives state and tribal governments authority to develop water quality standards and certify building projects based on those standards. Ferguson, along with state attorneys general in California, New York, Colorado, Connecticut and others, argues in a legal complaint that those rules, published earlier this month, strip local regulators of most of their ability to perform oversight permitted by Congress.

The legal action is separate from a lawsuit filed by Ferguson challenging the EPA’s relaxing of water quality standards in Washington state. That lawsuit, filed in June in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, concerns acceptable pollutant levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a contaminant that has been the source of cleanup efforts in the Spokane River.

Ferguson’s office said it has filed 69 lawsuits against the Trump administration, receiving favorable final outcomes in 20.

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