As many observers expected, the Obama administration’s new “Clean Water Rule” that redefines the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) has been stayed in federal court. This month, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a nationwide stay of the new rule, blocking its implementation while numerous court challenges across the country are sorted out and tried.
“The Sixth Circuit stayed the rule across the country to maintain the status quo while it determines if the court has jurisdiction to hear the challenge on its merits or whether the federal district courts should hear the cases first,” according to the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), which sued the administration on behalf of a group of landowners, farmers and cattlemen to invalidate WOTUS.
WOTUS, which was developed by the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, was issued on June 29 and immediately was challenged in 10 different suits involving more than 30 states and scores of private parties.
The stay was hardly a surprise. In July, Jay Lehr, science director for the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based research organization, told Composting News that a barrage of lawsuits, injunctions and acts of Congress was likely to block the new regulations from going into effect.
“I think this will be in the courts for years,” said Lehr, the nation’s first Ph.D. in groundwater hydrology who was among the first advocates for the creation of the EPA almost 50 years ago. “With all of the various filers from multiple states and organizations, I can’t imagine that they will have trouble finding judges at the right levels who will place injunctions against the carrying out of this law.”
H. Reed Hopper, principal attorney for PLF, said that whichever court ultimately decides the fate of the new rule, the Sixth Circuit’s stay decision is noteworthy in its conclusion that the rule appears to be invalid on its face because:
- It is arguably inconsistent with Supreme Court decisions limiting the scope of the Clean Water Act, including PLF’s 2006 case of Rapanos v. United States;
- It was apparently issued without adequate public review and comment; and
- It may undermine the Clean Water Act’s goal of recognizing the primary role of the states in protecting local land and water use.
“As PLF argues in our challenge to the sweeping rule, the Obama administration’s new rule represents an unprecedented expansion of federal power that could bring virtually all the nation’s water and much of the land under command-and-control direction from Washington, D.C.,” Hopper said. “Its vast expansion of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction violates both the terms of the act and the constitution’s limits on federal authority. Under its vague and limitless terms, the only waters that are clearly not subject to federal regulatory power are a few that are expressly excluded, including artificial reflective pools, ornamental waters and some ground water.”
As reported in the August issue of Composting News, Robert LaGasse, executive director of the Mulch and Soil Council, expressed reservations about WOTUS, saying that the rule “presents a big problem for anybody who wants to make changes to their property.”
"The rules are so vague that you might get one answer from one regulator and a completely different answer from another regulator,” LaGasse said.
The U.S. Composting Council, on the other hand, isn’t concerned about the new rule, according to Cary Oshins, director of education for the organization.
“I don’t think this will make much of a difference for compost sites,” Oshins said.
Opponents like Hopper, however, said the rule, if enacted, would impact everybody.
“Property owners around the country will be faced with the prospect of being micro-managed by federal bureaucrats,” Hopper said. “This turns our federal system on its head. Under our constitutional framework, the states and localities are charged with the primary role in land use regulation and local water-quality protection. The new rule usurps the authority and responsibility of the states, and empowers bureaucrats in Washington D.C. to act as zoning and land use czars for the entire nation.”