Chicago, IL – Fifty-six percent of Illinois’ streams, including those feeding Lake Michigan, 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 streams and wetlands that have been vulnerable to development and pollution for nearly ten years.
"Lake Michigan - where we swim, fish, and go boating – can only be clean if we protect the streams that feed them,” said Ally Fields, Clean Water Advocate for Environment Illinois. “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 1.6 million Illinoisans 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. Local officials, sportsmen, small businesses, and farmers are among the more than 800,000 Americans who have registered their support for the Clean Water Rule.
“Illinois’ rivers are the lifeblood of my business and our community,” said John Wanless, owner of Frank’s Real Bait Shop in Gorham. “I support doing everything we can to protect our rivers, streams, and wetlands, and I’m thrilled that the EPA is ensuring the health of our waters for generations to come.”
Environment Illinois has been campaigning to restore these clean water protections for nearly a decade. In the past year alone, the organization gathered over 32,000 comments in support of the rule, released research reports to the media, and met with federal officials to counter heavy industry lobbying in opposition.
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 Lake Michigan and Illinois’ rivers, but they simply won’t get delivered without Senator Durbin,” said Fields.
Environment Illinois is statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentIllinois.org