Federal Judge Flips Trump Order, Reinstates Obama’s WOTUS Rule

Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter

A federal judge in South Carolina issued an injunction against the Trump administration Thursday, lifting a stay on an Obama-era rule that expanded federal authority under the Clean Water Act.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the “waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule in 2015, giving the agency the authority to regulate seasonal and relatively insignificant bodies of water as “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act. President Donald Trump issued an executive order in February 2017 to review and rewrite the WOTUS rule to constrict its application “consistent with the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia in Rapanos v. United States.”

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt followed up on Trump’s executive order in January, beginning the review process and staying the WOTUS rule until 2020. Thursday’s injunction lifts Pruitt’s order to stay the rule in 26 states, or every state in which a district judge has not already ordered the rule stayed, E&E News reports.

“Navigable waters” refers to “relatively permanent, standing or flowing bodies of water,” Scalia, who died in 2016, wrote in the majority opinion in Rapanos. The definition is narrower than what the Obama administration had regulated and considered protected under the Clean Water Act. (RELATED: Trump Will Order EPA To Dismantle Obama-Era ‘Waters Of The US’ Rule)

Republicans, industry and agriculture interest groups, farmers and ranchers have all complained about the rule and application of the Clean Water Act in general.

The Army Corps of Engineers fined a California farmer $2.8 million in 2012 for plowing over vernal pools, which are seasonal lakes or puddles that house some marine life. The farmer eventually settled for $1 million after trying to fight the fine in court.

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