Supremes Relegate WOTUS Argument to District Courts

Posted on 1/25/2018 by Roger Marks

UPDATED 02/06/18: In the Federal Regsiter today, US EPA offiically added a new applicability date of February 6, 2020 to the 2015 Waters of the United States or WOTUS Rule, which is currently undergoing recodification. 

UPDATED 02/01/18: After the Supreme Court effectively lifted a nationwide ban on enforcement of EPA's 2015 Waters of the United States or WOTUS Rule, on January 31 EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt officially signed a rule to delay the new Clean Water Act standard until 2020. 

This week, the US Supreme Court decided unanimously not to take up a challenge to EPA’s 2015 Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, Final Rule. Instead, the Court held that challenges to the Final Rule—which expanded the Agency’s authority to enforce the Clean Water Act by more broadly interpreting the term “navigable waters”—must be brought in district courts.  

This means that future challenges to EPA’s WOTUS Final Rule may be filed and taken up in any or all of the nation’s ninety-four district courts. It also means that each of those ninety-four district courts could come to a unique conclusion about EPA’s rule. 

Background on EPA’s WOTUS Final Rule

water3.jpgThe Supreme Court’s WOTUS decision is only the latest headline in an ongoing saga concerning US EPA’s attempts to broaden the applicability of Clean Water Act regulations. In September 2015, one day before the WOTUS Final Rule was to take effect, a Federal Judge in North Dakota issued an injunction to block the rule from taking effect in 13 states until the court cases could be heard and settled.

The following month, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a nationwide Order of Stay on the WOTUS Final Rule, effectively preventing EPA from enforcing the rule, pending the result of legal challenges.

EPA’s Reconsideration of WOTUS

As the Obama-era WOTUS Final Rule is tied up in courts, the current administration has already pledged to reconsider and recodify the Final Rule. Reconsideration of the Final Rule came in response to an Executive Order issued on February 28, 2017.  

These are parallel efforts: As groups challenge EPA’s authority to enforce the 2015 Rule on administrative grounds in the courts, the new guard at EPA is working to replace the 2015 Rule with a (presumably) less expansive regulation of their own. A new Rule, of course, could lead to a new court battle, and so on.

What Does SCOTUS Decision Mean for Future of WOTUS?

EPA_Logo_Gavel.pngThe Supreme Court’s decision strikes down the Circuit Court’s nationwide stay, holding that district courts—not Appeals courts—are the appropriate venue for challenges to the WOTUS rule to be heard, based on Clean Water Act statute. Requiring the case to be taken up by district courts may open the door for regional or state-by-state injunctions to block EPA from enforcing the Final Rule.

The Supremes’ decision was primarily a jurisdictional one. WOTUS watchers hoping for more insight into how EPA will define Waters of the United States in the future will not find it here. For that, we will have to wait until US district courts to have their say or until EPA proposes a new WOTUS rule later this year, as expected. 

What Is the WOTUS Rule?

How EPA defines “waters of the United States” is critical to enforcement of the nation’s water laws. This definition tells the regulated community which bodies of water—oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, swamps, and more—are subject to the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

The definition of WOTUS impacts the way EPA enforces the myriad Clean Water Act programs: Oil spill notification (40 CFR 110), SPCC Plans (40 CFR 112), NPDES permitting and stormwater discharges (40 CFR 122), the per-industry standards at 40 CFR 405–471, and dredge and fill permitting (33 CFR 323).

EPA Compliance Training—Anytime, Anywhere

computer-(1).jpgManaging site compliance with the many complex EPA programs that affect your business—from the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to TSCA, EPCRA, CERLCA, and more—is a major challenge. If you’re new to the field, or need an update on changing EPA rules, the Complete Environmental Regulations Online Course will help you quickly build in-depth expertise.

Or, check out the latest individual EPA compliance training options here:
Clean Air Act Regulations Online
TSCA Regulations Online
New! Clean Water Act & SDWA Regulations Online
Just Launched! Superfund and Right-to-Know Act Regulations Online 
The 2017 nationwide schedule for the Complete Environmental Regulations Workshop is now available. Collaborate with other managers to identify the requirements that apply to your facility, ask the right questions, and make the right decisions about EPA compliance.

Tags: Act, Clean, effluent, EPA, new rules, NPDES, Water

Find a Post

Compliance Archives

Lion - Quotes

I have attended other training providers, but Lion is best. Lion is king of the hazmat jungle!!!

Henry Watkins

Hazardous Waste Technician

We have a very busy work schedule and using Lion enables us to take the course at our own time. It makes it easy for me to schedule my employees' training.

Timothy Mertes

Hazmat Shipping Professional

I was able to present my scenario to the instructor and worked thru the regulations together. In the past, I attended another training firm's classes. Now, I have no intention of leaving Lion!

Diana Joyner

Senior Environmental Engineer

The instructor took a rather drab set of topics and brought them to life with realistic real-life examples.

Tom Berndt

HSE Coordinator

Lion provided an excellent introduction to environmental regulations, making the transition to a new career as an EHS specialist less daunting of a task. Drinking from a fire hose when the flow of water is lessened, is much more enjoyable!

Stephanie Weathers

SHE Specialist

Course instructor was better prepared and presented better than other trainers. Course manual and references were easier to use as well.

Marty Brownfield

Hazardous Waste Professional

The course was very informative and presented in a way that was easily understood and remembered. I would recommend this course.

Jeffrey Tierno

Hazmat Shipping Professional

I like Lion's workshops the best because they really dig into the information you need to have when you leave the workshop.

Tom Bush, Jr.

EHS Manager

The instructor's energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge of the subject make the class a great learning experience!

Brian Martinez

Warehouse Operator

Very well structured, comprehensive, and comparable to live training seminars I've participated in previously. I will recommend the online course to other colleagues with training requirement needs.

Neil Luciano

EHS Manager

Download Our Latest Whitepaper

In most cases, injuries that occur at work are work-related and must be recorded to maintain compliance with OSHA regulations. This report shows you the 9 types of injuries you don’t record.

Latest Whitepaper

By submitting your phone number, you agree to receive recurring marketing and training text messages. Consent to receive text messages is not required for any purchases. Text STOP at any time to cancel. Message and data rates may apply. View our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.