On Sept. 13 a U.S. District judge in Texas temporarily blocked enforcement of the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS) in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, handing a victory to land owners in those states.
“Today’s district court ruling is a win for property owners in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, sparing them from the unlawful and impractical WOTUS rule that would allow EPA regulation of ponds, streams and puddles on private land,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “By restoring principles of federalism to this area of law, the ruling is an even bigger win for the Constitution and the fundamental liberties it protects.”
The 2015 rule aimed to further clarify the term, “waters of the United States.” The definition is an important one, as it tells regulators which bodies of water fall under the Clean Water Act, and consequently which bodies of water the federal government can regulate.
The changes didn’t add new bodies of water to the regulations, but further defined those already in place. By broadening the definition of bodies of water such as streams, wetlands, and adjacent water, the new rule greatly expanded the reach of the Clean Water Act.
The rule was vehemently opposed by landowners and organizations across the United States as government overreach, and numerous lawsuits were filed to stop implementation. Three months after it was announced, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled it had jurisdiction over all of the WOTUS cases and issued a stay, putting the rule on ice.
The stay did not, however, stick. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that challenges to WOTUS would be heard by federal district courts. With the Appeals court no longer having jurisdiction, it lifted the stay.
To fulfill a campaign promise, President Donald Trump took action independent of the battle in the courts. In one of his first acts in office, Trump signed an executive order directing the EPA to review the WOTUS rule and the definitions made under the Obama-era rule.
“The EPA’s so-called Waters of the United States Rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation,” Trump said during the signing ceremony on Feb. 28, 2017. “It has truly run amok and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers all across our land.”
In July 2017 the EPA and the Department of the Army formally proposed to repeal the expanded definitions of “waters of the United States,” and opened public comment on the issue. The public comment period closed last month.
Next, the agencies plan to propose a new definition to replace the Obama-era rule, as well as pre-2015 rules. A deadline for the new proposal has not been given.
The legal action is still unfolding in the courts, but currently the Obama-era rule is in effect in 23 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Territories. Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi will, for now, continue to use pre-2015 rules.