State fights ‘burdensome’ clean water regulations (copy)

The Bushy Park reservoir, shown here in 2005, is one of three sources in the Santee Cooper river system that provide drinking water for most people in the Charleston area. A lawsuit over federal changes to its own Clean Water laws will remain in Charleston, a federal judge ruled Thursday. Provided

The Environmental Protection Agency's motion to move a fight over the Clean Water Act from South Carolina to Texas was denied Thursday by a federal judge in Charleston.

The denial comes in connection to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of Southeast environmental groups and led by the Charleston-based Coastal Conservation League.

The lawsuit is a legal attempt to keep the federal government from stripping away its own Clean Water Act regulations, supporters say.

The motion to move the case was denied from the bench by Judge David Norton in U.S. District Court.

The outcome of the case could affect pollution protections in rivers, streams and lakes that supply drinking water to more than 2 million South Carolinians and 20 million people in the South.

Where the case is heard could decide the verdict, conservationists contend.

"We are relieved that this case is going to be heard in Charleston and not sent a thousand miles away to a different state," said Andrew Wunderley, the Charleston Waterkeeper, one of the coalition groups.

"Our supporters love Charleston’s rivers, creeks and wetlands. They fish, swim and paddle them regularly and have a direct stake in their health. They deserve to have the case heard here," he said.

Norton did not immediately rule on a motion by 18 business groups that they be allowed to join the case. The businesses supported the requested move.

The lawsuit is one of several attempts to stop the Trump administration from removing Obama administration regulations from the act or challenging the original Obama regulations.

The EPA wanted to move the matter to Texas to consolidate complaints in an ongoing case, filed in 2015.

Conservationists worried the venue change not only would make it harder for them to argue their case but also would put the lawsuit in a court where the oil industry and other business interests have headquarters and might have more sway.

The 2015 case was filed by those interests.

The EPA in 2017 proposed a rule that would repeal President Barack Obama-era federal Clean Water protections across the nation. The South Carolina lawsuit contends the EPA, with that rule, violated a law that prohibits agencies from altering basic environmental safeguards without giving the public a chance to weigh in. 

The Obama rule was designed to reduce storm-water runoff by restricting development around waters that feed groundwater and headwaters of larger navigable streams. Industry groups opposed it.

The pollution is considered the leading threat to water quality across the state.

Reach Bo Petersen Reporter at Facebook, @bopete on Twitter or 1-843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.