(EnviroNews Headline News Desk) — The Center for Biological Diversity (the Center) filed suit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C. on June 1, 2017, seeking the release of documents related to closed-door meetings between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state and industry groups in connection with Executive Order 13778, which the Center said will gut protections for American wetlands.
The order, signed by Trump on February 28, 2017, calls for a review of the “Waters of the United States” rule, which defines the bodies of water that could be regulated under the Clean Water Act based on 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific studies. The rule has been attacked by farmers, golf-course owners and the oil and chemical industries. It was the subject of a 2016 lawsuit against the EPA by 31 states, including Oklahoma, while current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was serving as Attorney General. The Center’s lawsuit also seeks records relating to Pruitt’s involvement in the EPA’s review of the water rule, which it says could be a violation of his ethics agreement.
“The Clean Water Act is our most important safeguard for the health of the nation’s waters and wetlands, so the public has a right to know why Trump’s EPA is doing the bidding of special-interest polluters,” said Brett Hartl, Government Affairs Director at the Center. The 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment by the EPA found that 52 percent of U.S. wetlands were in fair or poor condition.
Wetlands include fresh and saltwater marshes, swamps, mangrove forests, shallow ponds and bogs. They are found in every state. Along the coasts, these bodies of water help absorb storm surges, while inland wetlands hold floodwaters at bay and provide habitat for wildlife. More than one-third of federally-listed endangered species rely on wetlands for their survival. Coastal wetlands also excel at storing carbon, according to researchers from the University of Maryland in a study released February 1, 2017.
The Center says that the future of these essential ecosystems is being decided behind closed doors. “Scott Pruitt is rapidly turning the EPA into the least transparent, least accountable agency in the federal government, just so he can protect the secrecy of special interests that are calling the shots,” Hartl said in a press statement.
In a related action, the Center recently filed suit to make Pruitt’s emails and schedule public. The conservation organization has also turned to the courts to obtain records relating to alleged administration censorship of government employees in connection with climate change communication, and to seek information on the dismissal of science advisors at the EPA.