A federal judge blocked the Biden administration from implementing environmental regulations redefining how water sources are protected, but which opponents have argued were an example of overreach.
In his decision published late Sunday, Judge Jeffrey Brown ruled that the so-called Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in late December “poses irreparable harm” to residents of Texas and Idaho, the two states that challenged the regulations in the lawsuit filed on Jan. 18. Brown declined to issue a nationwide injunction, but noted 25 other states have challenged the rule in two separate ongoing lawsuits.
While I continue to battle the rule in court, this preliminary injunction is a major blow to the Biden Administration’s radical environmental agenda,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement 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,” Paxton added. “This is an important victory protecting the people of Texas from destructive federal overreach.”
On Dec. 30, the last working day of 2022, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers quietly announced they had approved the WOTUS regulation and that it would be implemented on Monday. After announcing it, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the rule “safeguards our nation’s waters.”
The rule ultimately opens the door for the federal government to regulate wetlands, lakes, ponds, streams and “relatively permanent” waterways, largely mimicking a pre-2015 environmental rule set during the Obama administration which implemented the changes in an effort to curb water pollution. The regulation is a broad interpretation of which water sources require protection under the Clean Water Act.
The Trump administration had reversed the Obama-era rules, loosening federal protections on water sources, such as puddles and ditches, that it didn’t consider navigable waterways or in need of federal oversight. A federal court, though, struck down the reversal in 2021 and implemented a middle-ground WOTUS interpretation that didn’t go 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 Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador. “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.”
The lawsuit from Texas and joined by Idaho was also consolidated with a challenge from several industry groups that asked the court to implement a nationwide pause on the rule. Brown wrote in his decision that he “determined that they are not entitled to any injunctive relief apart from that granted the States.”
Brown noted that Texas was able to provide evidence that compliance costs associated with the WOTUS rule would cost the state and taxpayers millions of dollars within the first year of implementation alone.
“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,” he wrote.
In October, meanwhile, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Sackett v. EPA, a case concerning a property owner in Idaho whose home construction was denied by the EPA due to a WOTUS violation. The high court is expected to hand down a ruling in the case over the summer.
In addition, House Republicans have taken aim at the regulation with nearly 200 members urging the Biden administration to rescind it in January. And, earlier this month, the House passed bipartisan legislation to overturn the rule.