Environmental -- 2019

American Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA   (S.D. Texas)

Challenging Waters of the United States regulation

The NAM and 13 other organizations sued the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2016 to challenge the agencies’ 2015 rule defining the scope of jurisdictional “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act (2015 WOTUS rule). The 2015 WOTUS rule exerts jurisdiction over a staggering range of waters and dry landscape features -- large and small; permanent, intermittent, or ephemeral; flowing or stagnant; natural or manmade; and interstate or intrastate. The NAM’s complaint argues that the rule exceeds the Clean Water Act and the United States Constitution.

The 2015 WOTUS rule defines which waters and land areas require a permit under the Clean Water Act for discharges of pollutants to those areas. The rule’s definitions and prohibitions are complex and vague, and often require case-by-case determinations by the agencies. Manufacturers will be required to undertake expensive and laborious efforts to determine whether landscape features on their property are jurisdictional. Penalties for unpermitted discharges (which can include simply moving dirt or mud without a permit) are tens of thousands of dollars per day, per violation.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit initially asserted jurisdiction to hear the various legal challenges to the 2015 WOTUS rule. Due to questions about that Court’s authority to decide these cases, however, the NAM asked the United States Supreme Court to rule that federal district courts in fact are the proper venue for challenges to the 2015 WOTUS rule. In a unanimous decision issued on January 22, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in the NAM’s favor, declaring that challenges to jurisdictional rules under the Clean Water Act must proceed in the federal district courts. That decision gave manufacturers and other regulated industries long-needed clarity on judicial resolution of rulemakings under the Clean Water Act. That clarity will expedite future litigation under the Clean Water Act.

While that procedural wrangling unfolded, the agencies began the regulatory process of rescinding the 2015 WOTUS rule and replacing it with a new jurisdictional rule. To ensure that the 2015 WOTUS rule does not come back into effect while the agencies complete their rule replacement process, the agencies issued a rule on February 6, 2018, that delays the effectiveness of the 2015 WOTUS rule until February 2020. In August 2018, a federal court enjoined that rule, which bring the 2015 WOTUS rule back into effect in the 26 states not already subject to a stay of the rule.

On October 18, 2018, the NAM filed our motion for summary judgment, which seeks to invalidate the 2015 WOTUS rule in its entirety. Our brief argues that the rule violates federal law and the U.S. Constitution, and should be invalidated in its entirety.

In a major win for manufacturers, on May 28, 2019, the court ruled that the EPA violated the law by issuing the rule without adequate notice and opportunity to comment on the proposed rule. The court remanded the rule to the agency to re-propose the rule and provide adequate opportunity to comment.

Related Documents:
Motion for Reconsideration  (July 25, 2019)
NAM Reply  (December 3, 2018)
NAM Reply  (November 7, 2018)
NAM Motion  (October 18, 2018)
NAM Motion  (February 7, 2018)
NAM Opposition to Motion to Dismiss  (May 13, 2016)