Sixth Circuit Issues Stay on Federal Water Regulation Rule

Today, a federal appeals court issued a nationwide stay blocking the new Environmental Protection Agency regulation that seeks to expand the amount of water and wetlands under federal protection, known as “Water of the United States” or WOTUS.  The Cincinnati-based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in a split ruling, said it was prudent to block the regulation while litigation continued over whether the Obama administration’s effort was legal.  “A stay temporarily silences the whirlwind of confusion that springs from uncertainty about the requirements of the new rule and whether they will survive legal testing,” the court said.  Previously, a federal judge in August blocked the rule in 13 states that had challenged it in a federal court in North Dakota, saying those states were likely to succeed in their lawsuit against the regulation.  In coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA in May issued the rule, which is estimated to put about 3% more waterways throughout the U.S. under new federal jurisdiction, which would require a federal permit to pollute those waters and could restrict access altogether.  Major waterways, like most rivers and lakes, are already under protection of the Clean Water Act and aren’t affected by the rule.  The EPA has said the rule is necessary to clarify which waters should fall under the protection of the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 after two Supreme Court rulings, in 2001 and 2006, called into question whether and to what extent 60% of U.S. waterways, especially streams and wetlands, should fall under federal jurisdiction.