Attorneys for 11 states, four environmental advocacy organizations and the federal Environmental Protection Agency will be on a teleconference Friday with U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood in Brunswick as the EPA seeks to delay a lawsuit while the agency goes about scrapping the Clean Water Rule.
The CWR is an Obama administration regulation that found stiff opposition from Republican-led state governments and the present Trump administration leadership within the agency.
The states brought the lawsuit against the EPA in June 2015, but once former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt took over at the EPA, the agency began suspending and otherwise rolling back Obama-era regulations that created stricter standards for air, water and soil quality. The Clean Water Rule was part of that regulatory framework.
The rule effectively defined the “Waters of the United States” and how those waters could be protected from pollution. EPA administrators stated when implementing the rule, it “protects streams and wetlands that are scientifically shown to have the greatest impact on downstream water quality and from the foundation of our nation’s water resources. EPA and the U.S. Army are ensuring that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictable, easier for businesses and industry to understand, and consistent with the law and the latest science.”
Jan. 31, the EPA announced it finalized its plan with the Army Corps of Engineers to suspend the rule with an eye toward replacing it with one more industry friendly.
“Today, EPA is taking action to reduce confusion and provide certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers,” Pruitt said in a statement. “The 2015 WOTUS rule developed by the Obama administration will not be applicable for the next two years, while we work through the process of providing long-term regulatory certainty across all 50 states about what waters are subject to federal regulation.”
In their Feb. 20 motion for a year’s delay in the matter — if not longer — attorneys for the Department of Justice’s Environmental Defense Section argue the rule will be gone within two years and thus negate the reason for the lawsuit.
“It is not possible to prejudge the time necessary to address public comments, especially in interagency administrative proceedings such as these,” they argue, according to the motion. “But given typical timeframes for the tasks that lay before the agencies, the agencies anticipate administrative proceedings will be complete within two years, though they are endeavoring to move more quickly than that.
“Thus, the agencies’ request of a one-year stay of the litigation, with the possibility of an extension if so warranted, is well-tailored to the circumstances here.”