North Dakota Judge Temporarily Blocks Clean Water Rule in 24 States

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP/KVRR) — A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a federal rule in 24 states that is intended to protect thousands of small streams, wetlands and other waterways throughout the nation.

U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland in Bismarck, North Dakota, halted the regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the 24 states, most of which are led by Republicans. The regulations were finalized in December 2022, repealing a rule implemented during President Donald Trump’s administration but thrown out by federal courts.

Opponents of the regulations, which define which “waters of the United States” are protected by the Clean Water Act, have called the rules an example of federal overreach and argued they would unfairly burden farmers and ranchers.

The preliminary injunction affects Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. An injunction was previously issued that halted the rules in Texas and Idaho.

In his 45-page order, Hovland wrote that the federal regulation “raises a litany of … statutory and constitutional concerns and would cause great harm to the states.”

“Once again, the courts have affirmed that the Biden administration’s WOTUS rule is overreaching and harmful to America’s beef farmers and ranchers,” said Todd Wilkinson, a South Dakota cattle producer and president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Cattle producers in 26 states now have some additional certainty while this rule is being litigated and we are optimistic that the Supreme Court will provide nationwide clarity on the federal government’s proper jurisdiction over water.”

The EPA said in a statement that the agency and the Army Corps of Engineers were reviewing the decision but still believe the regulations were “the best” interpretation of the Clean Water Act. The agency says its rules would still stand in states not included in the injunction.

“The agencies remain committed to establishing and implementing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ informed by diverse perspectives,” the EPA said in the statement. “Our goal is to protect public health, the environment, and downstream communities while supporting economic opportunity, agriculture, and industries that depend on clean water.”

The injunction comes less than a week after President Joe Biden vetoed a congressional resolution that would have overturned the rule. The House and Senate had used the Congressional Review Act to block the regulations, with several Democrats joining Republicans in opposing the regulations.

John Rumpler, clean water program director at Environment America, a national network of state environmental organizations, said the EPA rule blocked by the judge is supported by science and the law and that the judge was misreading the purpose of the Clean Water Act.

“From a favorite stream for fishing to the water flowing from our kitchen sinks, we all depend on clean water to survive and thrive,” Rumpler said in a statement. “That is why an overwhelming number of Americans support stronger protections for our waterways.”

However, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said the key is finding the right balance between powers given to states and the federal government.

“This rule would harm jobs and economic growth by taking jurisdiction from states and asserting federal authority over nearly any body of water, including roadside ditches, short-lived streams and many other areas where water may flow only once every 100 years,” Morrisey said.

North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer responded: “Beginning with President Obama, and furthered by President Biden, it is the environmentalist’s dream to regulate our water to the raindrop. Once again North Dakota is among the leaders in the fight to remind them such actions are illegal. Thanks to Attorney General Wrigley, our state is spared from federal mediocrity.” 

“This injunction is a welcome relief from the ever-growing, burdensome regulations being pushed by the Biden administration,” said Hoeven. “This expanded WOTUS rule would impose higher costs on critical industries, including agriculture, energy and construction, leading to greater inflation throughout our economy. That’s the last thing our nation needs. We worked to introduce and pass a CRA through the Senate to block the WOTUS rule, and will continue working to provide regulatory relief and prevent President Biden from advancing his harmful and costly Green New Deal agenda. At the same time, we are hopeful that the Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. EPA will resolve the uncertainty created by this federal overreach, while protecting the rights of states to manage their lands and waters,” Sen. John Hoeven said in a statement.

Gov. Doug Burgum also weighed in: “Today’s decision by Judge Hovland rightly blocks the Biden administration’s overreaching rule that would unlawfully extend federal jurisdiction to nearly every stream, pond and wetland in North Dakota. This rule would create confusion and restrict activities for farmers, ranchers and other landowners while driving up costs for consumers,” Burgum said. “North Dakota has some of the cleanest air and water in the nation because we responsibly develop our natural resources and properly exercise our state’s authority to protect our own waters from pollution.”

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