"Today's decision is a remarkable win for the health of wildlife and people. Companies will once again have to go through a rigorous approval process to ensure the environment is protected before they can mine, develop, drill, or pave anywhere near our nation's precious waterways."
Today, a federal judge struck down a Trump administration replacement rule that significantly curtailed the effectiveness and scope of the Clean Water Act. In a case brought by Earthjustice—representing the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and other tribes in Arizona—Judge Rosemary Marquez ruled that the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule was too flawed and posed too much of a threat of environmental harm to keep in place.
"Today's decision is a remarkable win for the health of wildlife and people," said Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark. "Companies will once again have to go through a rigorous approval process to ensure the environment is protected before they can mine, develop, drill, or pave anywhere near our nation's precious waterways."
The Trump administration revoked a rule recognizing federal responsibility to protect streams that provide clean drinking water and wetlands that provide sanctuary for wildlife. This reversal was formalized in the Waters of the United States replacement rule in April 2020.
The ruling will help protect many of our nation's critical waterways, including the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. In recent years, an Alabama-based mining company, Twin Pines Minerals LLC, has been working to build a titanium mine on the edge of the Okefenokee. Following the Trump administration's rule change, the company attempted to move forward without federal review. This court decision reaffirms that the project must be thoroughly vetted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"There is no greater example of the horrors of the replacement rule than the Twin Pines mining project," said Christian Hunt, Southeast representative at Defenders of Wildlife. "This is a welcome day for the Okefenokee, the wetlands surrounding the refuge, and will force Twin Pines to reevaluate this disastrous project."
American Rivers named the Okefenokee Swamp and St Marys River among America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2020, due to the threat posed by the Twin Pines project. Despite claims from Twin Pines that the mine would cause no damage to the Okefenokee, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hydrological report from last year found that those assertions contain "numerous and substantial issues." FWS ultimately deemed Twin Pines' model "at a minimum, poor to speculative, and at best unknown." The agency continues to warn that operations could permanently damage the entire 438,000-acre ecosystem.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge records as many as 700,000 annual visits, supporting 753 permanent local jobs and injecting $64.7 million into the local economy. As one of the world's largest remaining intact freshwater ecosystems, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is being considered for potential UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination.