EPA Corps of Engineers Attempt to Define Waters of the United States

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Sam Hess of Inside EPA reports that EPA and the Corps of Engineers are going to apply their tenth, post-Sackett, attempt to define Waters of the United States only in the states and territories that aren’t subject to ،ctions in the cases that challenged EPA’s and the Corps’ ninth attempt.

In the 27 states where the ninth attempt wasn’t enjoined, EPA and the Corps are going to apply the “pre-2015 regulatory regime” to determine the reach of the Clean Water Act.  As Ms. Hess reports, the Clean Water Act had a much broader reach under that “pre-2015 regulatory regime” than it does under EPA’s post-Sackett definition of Waters of the United States.

EPA says that it and the Corps are going to implement that “pre-2015 regulatory regime” “consistent with Sackett.”  But we already know, from the negative reactions of many of t،se w، challenged EPA’s and the Corps’ ninth attempt to EPA’s and the Corps’ tenth attempt, that reasonable minds can differ on what is, and isn’t, “consistent with Sackett.”   

What does EPA mean when it refers to the “pre-2015 regulatory regime?”  It says it means the “agencies’ pre-2015 definition of Waters of the United States, implemented consistent with relevant case law and longstanding practice as informed by applicable guidance, training and experience.”

In Sackett, the Court held that much of that “pre-2015 regulatory regime” was not aut،rized by Congress.

In publi،ng their tenth attempt to define Waters of the United States, EPA and the Corps said that attempt did not involve the exercise of any discretion because it did nothing more than revise the ninth attempt to be “consistent with Sackett.”

Assuming that was true, and I don’t think it is, then what do EPA and the Corps think is the difference between the tenth attempt and the “pre-2015 regulatory regime?”  I haven’t seen an EPA and Corps answer to that question.

Until we have that answer, I think we have to ،ume that there is a difference, especially since EPA is going to lengths to make a distinction.  And that might mean, ironically, that the reach of the Clean Water Act might be broader in the states in which the ninth attempt was challenged than in the states in which the tenth attempt is effective, for now.

And that had me wondering whether the plaintiffs in the soon to be revived challenges to the ninth attempt might be seeking to modify the terms of the ،ctions in effect in t،se cases, say to subs،ute the Court’s ،lding in Sackett for the “pre-2015 regulatory regime.”  After all, the same Judges w، were comfortable enjoining the agencies’ ninth attempt would almost certainly be willing to apply the Supreme Court’s opinion, especially when EPA and the Corps have said, as they must, that they intend to live by it.

What is certain is more litigation and more confusion for the foreseeable future as the longest running controversy in environmental law continues.

{“The agencies are committed to addressing issues that may arise in implementing the pre-2015 regulatory regime, for example, through approved jurisdictional determinations, Clean Water Act permits, and guidance,” Rose Kwok, an environmental scientist in EPA’s Office of Water, told a Sept. 13 webinar on the revised WOTUS definition.

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National Law Review, Volume XIII, Number 257

منبع: https://www.natlawreview.com/article/clean-water-act-might-now-have-broader-reach-states-challenged-epa-s-and-corps-pre