Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (together, the Agencies) issued a long-awaited proposal to redefine the “waters of the US” (WOTUS) subject to federal regulation and permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The reach of the CWA is notoriously unclear, but knowing which areas on your property are jurisdictional and will require permits is critical to project planning and timelines. If finalized, the proposed rule would replace the Obama administration’s contentious 2015 WOTUS Rule and eliminate the regulatory patchwork that currently exists as the 2015 WOTUS Rule is being implemented in only certain parts of the country. Continue Reading EPA and Corps Release Long-Awaited Proposal to Redefine WOTUS
A second district court has agreed that challenges to the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule are likely to succeed on the merits. The US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia issued an order on June 8 enjoining the WOTUS Rule in 11 states. Georgia v. Pruitt, No. 2:15-cv-00079 (S.D. Ga. 2018). The rule was previously enjoined by the US District Court for North Dakota in 13 states. North Dakota v. U.S. EPA, 127 F. Supp. 3d 1047 (D.N.D. 2015). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (“the Agencies”) recently promulgated a new applicability date for the 2015 WOTUS rule (Applicability Rule), preventing its implementation until February 2020, but there have been several lawsuits challenging the Applicability Rule. Now, regardless of the outcome of challenges to the Applicability Rule, the 2015 Rule cannot be applied in 24 states until a court issues a final decision on the merits, either upholding or invalidating the Rule, or the Agencies finalize a repeal and/or replacement of the 2015 Rule. Continue Reading 2015 “Waters of the US” Rule Enjoined in an Additional 11 States
The Corps Struggles to Balance Competing Constitutional and Statutory Duties
Federal agencies must often balance competing policy concerns and legal requirements. This process may be difficult and fraught with intense public feedback, and frequently results in litigation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) has found itself in the hot seat over how it manages the nation’s rivers, pitting its obligations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) against private property rights. Litigation in the federal courts may soon determine whether, and if so how, responsible the federal government is for unintentional or incidental flooding when the government manages rivers for the benefit of listed species. These cases also bring to the fore a burning question: When can government agencies be held responsible for natural events? With the increase in climate change-related litigation nationwide, this issue will likely only rise in prominence. Continue Reading Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place
On January 22nd, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous (9-0) decision, authored by Justice Sotomayor, agreeing with industry groups, some eNGOs, and many states, that the district courts have jurisdiction over challenges to the 2015 Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule. Nat’l Ass’n of Manufacturers v. Dept. of Defense, et al., No. 16-299 (Jan. 22, 2018). The Court wholly rejected the government’s claim that the WOTUS Rule is subject to exclusive appellate court jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) judicial review provision and confirms that current and future challenges to the WOTUS Rule must be brought in district court. By reversing the Sixth Circuit decision which found that the CWA vests the federal courts of appeals with exclusive jurisdiction over challenges to the WOTUS Rule, the Supreme Court set in motion proceedings that will likely result in the lifting of the Sixth Circuit’s nationwide stay of the 2015 WOTUS Rule. Continue Reading Agencies Move Quickly to Delay Applicability of 2015 WOTUS Rule Following Unanimous Supreme Court Decision
Today, EPA and the Corps released a highly anticipated proposal to rescind the Obama Administration’s controversial 2015 Clean Water Rule. The June 2015 rule, which has been stayed since October 2015, would broadly define the scope of “waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) subject to federal regulation and permitting requirements under the CWA. The proposed rescission is the first step of a two-step process to repeal and replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule with a new WOTUS rule. With today’s proposal, EPA and the Corps are proposing to officially rescind the 2015 rule and continue to implement the regulatory definition in place prior to the 2015 rule while they work to promulgate a new rule to define WOTUS.
On February 28, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) that sets into motion a process for the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works (jointly, the “Agencies”) to review the Obama Administration’s Waters of the US (WOTUS) Rule. 80 Fed. Reg. 37,054 (June 29, 2015). The EO directs the Agencies to review the WOTUS Rule for consistency with the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the policies set forth in the EO, stating that “[i]t is in the national interest to ensure that the Nation’s navigable waters are kept free from pollution,” while at the same time “promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles played by Congress and the States under the Constitution.” Following review, the EO instructs the Agencies to publish, as appropriate, a proposed rule for notice and comment rescinding or revising the WOTUS Rule.
In January, the US Army Corps of Engineers published the final 2017 nationwide permits (NWPs), renewing a critical permitting tool for both the government and the regulated community. To comply with the Clean Water Act (CWA or the Act), projects with minimal adverse environmental effects can obtain authorization for the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States through the Corps’ streamlined NWP process. The Corps reissued all 50 of the 2012 NWPs, issued two new NWPs, one new General Condition and made a number of notable revisions.
Yesterday President Trump signed several Executive Orders (EOs) and Presidential Memoranda designed to speed environmental permitting and reviews. Among them is an EO to “Expedite Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects.” While past administrations have recognized the costs and delays of federal environmental permitting and encouraged timely decisions by regulatory agencies (e.g., EOs 13,212, 13,274 and EO 13,604), President Trump’s EO reflects a new sense of determination by the White House to move important infrastructure projects forward. The EO reflects a recognition that major infrastructure projects trigger an array of overlapping environmental and natural resource laws and requirements.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) recently issued the first Regulatory Guidance Letter (RGL) of the Obama Administration. RGLs were developed by the Corps as a means of providing written, mandatory guidance to field offices, and are normally issued as a result of evolving policy, judicial decisions, and/or changes to the Corps’ regulations that affect the Corps’ permit program.