FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sheridan Brown
Grantham, NH – (11/1) A newly discovered letter reveals that Governor Chris Sununu secretly advocated for a rollback of federal Clean Water Act protections. The Act makes it illegal to place pollutants into “navigable waters,” which are defined as “waters of the United States.”
On June 19, 2017, Sununu wrote the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in support of efforts by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration to repeal the federal Clean Water Rule. The 2015 Rule clarified the Clean Water Act’s key definition of “navigable waters” after a series of court decisions created confusion about the Act’s scope and led to difficulty in its enforcement.
The decisions made it unclear whether waters are protected by the Act if they are non-navigable; protected if non-navigable, but somehow connected to navigable waters; and (if the latter) how much of a connection is necessary. The Rule responded by providing guidance for what sort of physical or hydrologic connection to navigable waters was required for waters to fall within the Act’s scope.
If one could discharge pollutants into a non-navigable channel or other waters that then reached navigable waters, it would undermine the Act’s entire purpose: to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity” of our nation’s waters.
A wide range of conservation groups including the National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, the American Fly Fishing Association, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation partnership supported the rule. Meanwhile, industry groups and developers came out against it.
Sununu took the side of industry, arguing for the narrowest possible interpretation of Clean Water Act protection. It is unclear whether he sought or received any advice from his Department of Environmental Services or other natural resource conservation experts before doing so.
Sununu recently blocked the release of his correspondence to federal agencies on environmental matters, sought via a Right to Know request by Grantham attorney Sheridan Brown. Brown was still able to obtain the EPA letter elsewhere, because it was part of document production in litigation related to the Trump Administration’s attempted delay and repeal of the Clean Water Rule.
Brown Said: “Chris Sununu is like a little boy that only shows his parents his “A” papers, issuing press releases about his correspondence whenever it might be popular. What you discover when you dig deeper is that he hides a lot of “F” papers where he has failed New Hampshire citizens on protecting our natural resources.”
At the same time Sununu was secretly supporting the Clean Water Rule repeal, his “Regulatory Reform Steering Committee” was proposing a rollback of state laws protecting wetlands. Those protections were ultimately weakened as a result of legislation drafted by the Committee, passed by the legislature, and signed into law by Sununu (HB1104).
The changes came at the request of the commercial construction industry and developers, which have already given a combined $350,000 to Sununu’s campaigns and inaugural fund since 2016.
The role of Sununu’s Regulatory Reform Steering Committee in rolling back wetlands protections is detailed here and fully footnoted with sources.