A federal judge blocked the Biden administration from implementing environmental regulations that define how water sources are protected. However, opponents have argued that water source protection is an example of overreach.
In the decision, published late Sunday, Judge Jeffrey Brown ruled that the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that was announced in late December by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) “poses irreparable harm” to residents in Idaho and Texas. The two states challenged the regulations in the January 18 filed lawsuit. While Brown declined to issue a national injunction, 25 states have challenged the rule in two ongoing cases.
“While I continue to battle the rule in court, this preliminary injunction is a major blow to the Biden Administration’s radical environmental agenda,” said Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, in a statement on Monday. “The unlawful rule would have saddled Texans across the state with crushing new regulations, slowing our state’s economic development and limiting our job growth.”
“Securing an injunction stops the rule from going into effect,” added Paxton. “This is an important victory protecting the people the people of Texas from destructive federal overreach.”
On December 30, the final working day of 2022, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA quietly announced Monday that they had approved the WOTUS regulation, and it would be implemented.
After it was announced, Michael Regan, EPA Administrator, said the rule “safeguards our nation’s waters.”
The rule opens the doors for the federal government to regulate ponds, wetlands, streams, lakes, and “relatively permanent” waterways, which essentially copied a pre-2015 environmental rule that was set during the Obama administration to curb water pollution by implementing the changes.
New regulation: Broader interpretation of which water sources need protection under the Clean Water Act
The regulation is a broad interpretation of which water sources need protection under the Clean Water Act.
Former President Trump’s administration reversed the Obama era’s rules and loosened federal water source protections, including ditches and puddles. However, a federal court struck down the reversal in 2021 and implemented a middle-ground interpretation by WOTUS that didn’t reach as far as the Obama administration’s rule.
“I am proud of the work our office is doing. We took criticism from the Governor’s administration and some pundits for our decision to join this suit, but based on Judge Brown’s injunction, it is clear I made the right move for Idaho,” said Raul Labrador, Idaho Attorney General. “My team and I formulated the best strategy to get the right result and the quickest relief.”
“Together, we have won an initial victory to stop the Biden administration from subjecting Idaho to federal overreach,” said Labrador.
The Texas lawsuit, which Idaho joined, was also consolidated with challenges from several industry groups that asked for an implementation of a nationwide pause on the rule.
Judge Brown wrote in his decision that he “determined that they are not entitled to any injunctive relief apart from that granted the States.” He noted that Texas was able to provide evidence that the WOTUS’s rule would cost taxpayers and the state millions of dollars in just the first year of implementation.
“The States have already shown irreparable harm because they will expend unrecoverable resources — monetary and otherwise — complying with a rule unlikely to withstand judicial scrutiny,” wrote Brown.
In October, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Sackett v. EPA, a case involving an Idaho property owner whose home construction was denied by the EPA because of a WOTUS violation. The high court is expected to rule on the case during the summer.
Additionally, the House GOP members have aimed at the regulations, with almost 200 members urging the Biden administration to revoke it in January. The House passed bipartisan legislation to rescind the rule earlier in the month.