Defining the Waters of the United States

What Does the Clean Water Act Protect and How Do Changes Impact the Chesapeake Region?

The fight over what waters are subject to Clean Water Act protections (what are "waters of the U.S." or "navigable waters") has been a long one. Decades of litigation and two Supreme Court cases have not settled the matter. The Obama Administration issued the Clean Water Rule in 2015 to establish a clearer regulatory definition, based on Justice Kennedy’s "significant nexus" test in his concurring opinion in the 2006 Rapanos v. U.S. case.

The 2015 Clean Water Rule faced litigation, a delay by the Trump Administration’s EPA, and then litigation challenging the delay of the rule. As a result, the rule has only been allowed to enter into effect in 26 states. The current administration has proposed repealing the 2015 Clean Water Rule and reinstating the prior regulatory language.

Join Women's Council on Energy and the Environment (WCEE) and the GW Law Environmental & Energy Law Program to hear why this legal fight matters and what it means for the Chesapeake region. Caitlin McCoy, Climate, Clean Air & Energy Fellow at Harvard Law School, will discuss the legal landscape of the proposed rule and the implications of some of its features. Tara Scully, Assistant Professor of Biology and Director of the Sustainability Minor at George Washington University, will speak to the biological impacts of the proposed rule, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

This is a Lunch & Learn (i.e. brown-bag) event; beverages and dessert will be provided but please bring your own lunch.


Caitlin McCoy is the Climate, Clean Air, & Energy Fellow for the Environmental & Energy Law Program. Before joining EELP, Caitlin was a Visiting Associate Professor of Law and the Environmental Program Fellow at The George Washington University Law School where she taught classes on environmental law to undergraduate, graduate, and law students. She previously served as the Legal Director of The Center for Coalfield Justice where she worked on environmental justice, coal mining, and shale gas drilling issues in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Caitlin earned her LLM in International Environmental Law with highest honors from George Washington Law, her J.D., cum laude, from Washington University School of Law, and her BA with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley.

Tara A. Scully is the Director of the Sustainability Minor Program and an Assistant Professor at the George Washington University. At GW, she regularly teaches introductory biology and sustainability courses and laboratories to non-science majors. Currently, she teaches five different courses: Introduction to Sustainability; The Biology of Nutrition and Health; The Ecology and Evolution of Organisms; Food, Nutrition, and Service; and Understanding Organisms through Service Learning. The last 2 courses are service learning courses, which allow students to interact with the community on issues related to food, food access and security, food desserts, pollution, ecological issues, and human impact on other organisms.

Dr. Scully received her MS, specializing in forensic science research with a concentration on fiber evidence and a PhD with a research focus on developmental biology from The George Washington University. She has worked for a nonprofit agency training prosecutors nationwide on how to present forensic evidence—specifically DNA—in criminal cases and is the author of the book Discovering Biology in the Lab: An Introductory Laboratory Manual as well as Why We Eat Food.