A federal judge in North Dakota issued a preliminary injunction late on Thursday that will prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from moving forward on an ambitious plan to expand the federal government’s power to regulate water pollution.
Judge Ralph Erickson concluded that the 13 states which collaborated to challenge the new Waters of the United States rule were likely to be harmed if the rule was allowed to be implemented, and he also concluded that the rule is unlikely to survive a final court judgment.
The ruling is a tough blow to the Obama administration, which has pushed hard for the new rule. For the time being, the injunction only applies to the 13 states in the lawsuit, while the rule will go into place for the rest of the country starting Friday.
The Waters of the United States rule, proposed in April 2014, the Obama administration’s effort to enforce its vision of the Clean Water Act. The rule would alter the definition of what constitutes the “waters of the United States” under the act, thereby increasing the amount of water subject to federal regulation. Critics, comprising Republicans along with many agricultural and business interests, argue that the new rule is a power grab by the federal government, which would give them unprecedented control over bodies of water located entirely within individual states. Some have argued that even flooded ditches could fall under federal oversight through the new rule.
The 13 states winning in Thursday’s ruling aren’t the only ones challenging the rule. Several other lawsuits have sought injunctions in federal courts, but those injunction requests have not succeeded thus far.
In his ruling, Erickson characterizes the rule as “exceptionally expansive” in how it defines the waters of the United States. If implemented, Erickson writes, it would “irreparably diminish” states’ sovereignty over their own waterways. He also found that states would incur major financial distress from the new rule, noting that North Dakota would now have to spend millions on costly mapping and survey projects before it could approve new oil wells in the state.
“The breadth of the definition of a tributary set forth in the Rule allows for regulation of any area that has a trace amount of water so long as ‘the physical indicators of a bed and banks and an ordinary high water mark’ exist,” Erickson writes. Erickson added that many parts of the rule were made without any clear scientific basis, and thus the rule appears to be “arbitrary and capricious” in nature.
“I am thrilled that Chief Judge Erickson agrees EPA’s WOTUS rule should be enjoined,” said Pam Bondi, chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “EPA overstepped its authority, again. The EPA should not be permitted to intrude unlawfully on state authority and burden farmers, businesses and landowners.”
The League of Conservation Voters, on the other hand, quickly slammed the new injunction.
“This is a terrible decision for the 1 in 3 Americans who have already been waiting too long for these vital protections for their drinking water,”said League legislative representative Madeleine Foote in a statement. “The District Court for North Dakota’s decision puts the interests of big polluters over people in need of clean water. Blocking the implementation of the Clean Water Rule leaves in place an unworkable status quo that jeopardizes the clean water our families, economy, and communities depend on.”