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Judge blocks Biden environmental regulation in defeat for administration

By Ben Marquis
|
March 22, 2023

President Joe Biden's Environmental Protection Agency in January finalized a revised rule clarifying the definition of the "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act, a move that was immediately challenged in court by the state of Texas.

On Sunday, a federal judge sided with Texas and issued a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the new rule while the lawsuit proceeds, The Hill reported.

That injunction is only applicable within the sovereign borders of Texas and Idaho, which joined the suit after it was filed. A number of trade associations impacted by the rule also joined the suit and asked for a nationwide preliminary injunction, but that request was denied by the judge.

EPA's newly expanded definition of what constitutes the "waters of the U.S."

The EPA, working in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, announced the final revised rule in Dec. 2022 and said that it was intended to establish a "durable definition" of the "waters of the U.S." in terms of what was covered under the federal government's regulatory jurisdiction.

"When Congress passed the Clean Water Act 50 years ago, it recognized that protecting our waters is essential to ensuring healthy communities and a thriving economy," EPA Administrator Micheal Regan said at that time.

He added, "Following extensive stakeholder engagement, and building on what we’ve learned from previous rules, EPA is working to deliver a durable definition of WOTUS that safeguards our nation’s waters, strengthens economic opportunity, and protects people’s health while providing greater certainty for farmers, ranchers, and landowners."

The revised "waters of the U.S." rule regulates the permissible amount and type of pollutants that can be discharged into "navigable" and "interstate" waters and was set to take effect on March 20.

EPA has exceeded its authority

When that revised rule was published in January, Texas immediately sued and asked for a preliminary injunction, which it just received on Sunday from U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown, an appointee of former President Donald Trump.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a tweet Monday morning, "Big victory against Biden: Last night a federal court blocked the Admin’s radical 'waters of the US' rule, which imposes a leftist environmental agenda on Texas, crushing new regs, and oppressive economic costs. I will always fight to keep Biden’s boots off the necks of Texans!"

Texas argued that the EPA had greatly expanded its definition of "waters of the U.S." far beyond what Congress had initially intended in the Clean Water Act, as it now included "non-navigable" and "intrastate" waters that were previously covered by the regulatory jurisdiction of the individual states and territories.

Judge grants limited preliminary injunction

According to the 34-page ruling from Judge Brown, he agreed with Texas and Idaho, as well as the 18 different trade associations that also joined the suit, that the EPA had likely gone too far with the newly revised rule and exceeded its congressionally delegated authority in terms of the Clean Water Act's definition of the "waters of the U.S."

The judge determined that the states had standing to sue, were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims, were likely to suffer irreparable harm from the rule, and that a preliminary injunction to restore the prior status quo was in the public's interest.

However, in terms of the scope of such an injunction, and since the court only addressed the standing of the states and not the associations, Judge Brown limited his grant of a preliminary injunction to just Texas and Idaho and denied the request of the associations for a nationwide injunction against the new rule.

He also noted that some states "may actually welcome" the new rule and that he was therefore "reluctant to deprive states that embrace the Rule from exercising their sovereign rights to conform their conduct accordingly -- at least until the Rule’s statutory and constitutional validity has been determined."

A "major blow" to Biden's "radical environmental agenda"

In a statement issued following the court's ruling, Texas AG Paxton said, "While I continue to battle the rule in court, this preliminary injunction is a major blow to the Biden Administration’s radical environmental agenda."

"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. This is an important victory protecting the people of Texas from destructive federal overreach," he added.

Paxton further noted in his press release -- as did the judge in his ruling -- that numerous other states have also separately challenged the EPA's new "waters of the U.S." rule in different courts but have not yet similarly received the injunctions they have sought.