A high level of protection for these Idaho waters is guaranteed by the federal Clean Water Act. However, Idaho state regulators recently finalized—and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved—new rules that undermine the Clean Water Act’s protections by allowing actions to degrade water quality without required agency and public reviews that would determine whether there is a compelling need for the proposed actions.
“Idaho’s protections for its cleanest water bodies are among the weakest in the nation,” said Earthjustice attorney Laura Beaton who is representing the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “A favorable ruling will not only protect Idaho’s best waters but will ensure that EPA does not approve similarly weak regulations in other states.”
Federal standards require no degradation of a state’s highest-quality waters unless it is economically and socially necessary. States must review a discharge of any pollutant that will adversely impact the water quality of the state’s purest waterways, which in Idaho include some of the state’s best trout streams. But Idaho’s new rule eliminates those reviews, directly contradicting the federal Clean Water Act, which requires them.
The lawsuit comes as state and federal regulators consider a proposed dam in the Oneida Narrows section of the Bear River and a phosphate mine on the Blackfoot River, both of which are likely to degrade clean, protected waters without full review if Idaho’s weak regulations remain in place.
“Clean water is Idaho’s most treasured and important resource,” said Andrea Santarsiere, Idaho Conservation and Legal Associate for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “This rule puts our best trout fisheries and drinking-water supplies at great risk. That isn’t in the best interest of any Idahoan—whether they fish, farm, float, or simply rely on clean water for drinking.”
Today’s lawsuit seeks to force the federal government to set aside its approval of Idaho’s rules until they are strengthened to comply with the more protective standards required by the Clean Water Act.