Major Suit Against Trump’s EPA-Save The Bay Joins Three Environmental Groups

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 24, 2019

Redwood City, CA—Save The Bay, San Francisco Baykeeper, Committee for Green Foothills, and Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge joined together today to protect San Francisco Bay by filing a critical lawsuit against the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency. The lawsuit seeks to overturn EPA’s recent arbitrary decision that the Redwood City Salt Ponds along the shoreline of San Francisco Bay are not protected by the Clean Water Act.

The suit alleges EPA violated the law by determining the Salt Ponds are not “waters of the United States” and removing them from legal protection.

The Salt Ponds, like other wetlands around the Bay, deserve protection and are an integral part of the Bay Area’s ecosystem.

The environmental organizations are asking the United States District Court in San Francisco to “reject EPA’s complete abdication of its duty to regulate the Salt Ponds under the Clean Water Act.” The lawsuit highlights the importance of the Salt Ponds in providing habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife, as well as the educational and recreational opportunities they provide for the people in the community. The Salt Ponds are also critical to protecting the Bay’s water quality and mitigating the impacts of sea level rise.

“The Salt Ponds and other San Francisco Bay wetlands and water deserve continued federal legal protection against pollution and development,” said Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis. “We won’t let the Trump Administration invite developers to pave the Bay.”

The Salt Ponds have been owned and operated by Cargill, Inc. and its affiliates since 1978. They constitute one of the last remaining undeveloped areas along the San Francisco Bay’s shoreline. For over a decade, Cargill and its developer partner DMB Associates have sought to build on the Salt Ponds. In 2012, the companies withdrew a proposal to build over 12,000 homes and thousands of square feet of commercial buildings on the ponds due to intense opposition from the local community.

“We’re not going to stand by while Cargill uses the Trump administration’s eagerness to gut our environmental laws for its own economic advantage,” said Megan Fluke, Executive Director of Committee for Green Foothills. “The salt ponds are part of the Bay. Development here would not only destroy restorable natural resources, it would put homes and businesses in the path of sea level rise, on an earthquake liquefaction site, and next to heavy industry.”

“EPA’s decision to classify the salt ponds as ‘land’ instead of water is absurd and illegal,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Executive Director of San Francisco Baykeeper. “It’s a thinly veiled scheme by the Trump Administration to allow the Cargill Corporation to destroy the Bay for profit, without worrying about Clean Water Act safeguards.”

EPA “determined the vast majority of the surface waters located at the Site are not subject to the Clean Water Act’s protections, effectively authorizing their pollution or destruction,” according to the lawsuit.

“Through the efforts of Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge and others, Congress has authorized the potential expansion of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge to include the Salt Ponds because they have significant conservation and wildlife values,” stated Gail Raabe, Co-Chair of CCCR. “We find it indefensible that the Trump Administration has removed federal Clean Water Act protection over those same ponds, flying in the face of decades of critically important regulatory protection.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Trump Administration’s EPA, previously headed by Scott Pruitt, and now Andrew Wheeler, has systematically worked to decrease protection of the nation’s water under the Clean Water Act. The Plaintiffs are represented by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, headquartered in Burlingame, and Earthrise Law Center, based at the Lewis and Clark Law School.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that EPA’s negative jurisdictional determination was arbitrary and capricious, contrary to the Clean Water Act, and lacked substantial evidence to support the findings, under the Administrative Procedure Act.

According to Joe Cotchett, lead attorney at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy: “This is one more Trump attack on our environment, as EPA puts the profits of big businesses like Cargill ahead of the good of the country.”

According to the litigation, the EPA wholly ignored its own legal and environmental experts in reaching an unlawful determination. “EPA’s own exhaustive study of these ponds in 2016 appears to have been completely ignored by political decision makers in Washington, DC. They provided extensive scientific and legal analysis demonstrating the Salt Ponds are waters of the United States,” according to Attorney Nazy Fahimi of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

“EPA’s decision sets a dangerous legal precedent for waters across the United States,” said Allison LaPlante, an attorney at Earthrise Law Center. “If the San Francisco Bay salt ponds are not waters, then waterbodies across the country are at risk of losing vital protections under the Clean Water Act.”

“The Salt Ponds are a vital part of the health of the entire Bay Area ecosystem,” said Eric Buescher, an attorney at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. “This is just one fight against the abdication of environmental protection occurring on a daily basis throughout the United States. It is a fight that our clients are waging every day and that requires the support and involvement of the entire community to win.”

Former Congressman and founder of Earth Day, Pete McCloskey, an attorney at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, stated “this fight is vital to protecting the San Francisco Bay from money grabs by wealthy developers. Protecting these lands are vital to preventing the natural resources of the Bay from being destroyed.”