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Supreme Court Rules WOTUS Fight Belongs in District Court
USAgNet - 01/24/2018

In a setback for the Trump administration, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that the nation's district courts, not the appellate court system, should decide a legal challenge over which waterbodies deserve protection under the federal Clean Water Act. At issue is the definition of what constitutes Waters of the United States. Last July, the Environmental Protection Agency said it was moving forward with a two-step process to rescind the controversial Clean Water Rule, which it helped promulgate during the Obama years with the Army Corps of Engineers. The Trump administration had appealed to the Supreme Court in hopes of accelerating the rescission process.

But on Monday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor opined that "even if the court might draft the statute differently, Congress made clear that rules like the WOTUS rule must be reviewed first in federal district courts.

"The government argues that immediate court-of-appeals review facilitates quick and orderly resolution of disputes about the WOTUS rule. We acknowledge that routing WOTUS rule challenges directly to the courts of appeals may improve judicial efficiency...But efficiency was not Con­gress' only consideration. Had Congress wanted to priori­tize efficiency, it could have authorized direct circuit-court review of all nationally applicable regulations, as it did under the Clean Air Act."

EPA's two-step plan involved initiating a public rulemaking to rescind the CWR and revert to laws governing water protection that were first enacted in 1986. The agency would then promulgate a revised definition of WOTUS. The Sixth District Court in Cincinnati issued a stay and blocked it from being implemented in October 2015.

Last February, President Trump signed an executive order instructing EPA and the Army Corps to review the CWR. Although the order did not repeal the CWR outright, it kicked off a review and rulemaking process that was expected to extend into 2018.

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