Appeals court puts the brakes on EPA's clean water rule

The US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit granted a temporary stay against the Water of the United States rule on Friday.

Alex Brandon/AP
A water ditch runs dry next to a corn field in Cordova, Md., June 11. The US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit granted a temporary stay an EPA rule that would fold temporary waterways, like this one, into the Clean Water Act

A US Court has temporarily blocked the a federal water rule that would fold temporary waterways into Clean Water Act protections, Friday.

The US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit granted a temporary stay against the Water of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The stay is the latest of several attempts to derail many Obama administration environmental policies. The WOTUS rule was intended to clarify which bodies of water are under the supervision of the Clean Water Act.

The rule was finalized with help from the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers in May. Two US Supreme Court rulings had left uncertainties over which waterways were under the protection of the Clean Water Act, which has stricter standards than many states. The WOTUS rule faces political and legal opposition across the country.

"This decision is a critical victory in our fight against this onerous federal overreach," West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey told the Associated Press. West Virginia is one of the states that has waterways that would newly fall under the Clean Water Act if the WOTUS stays.

Eighteen states are challenging the new standards imposed by the WOTUS. Injunctions have already been placed on in North Dakota since August. The WOTUS still faces increased opposition from Republicans in Congress, farmers, and energy companies.

The court did not believe the 18 states challenging the stricter standards would be unduly harmed by the rule, but also said a temporary stay would not put the waterways in question in jeopardy.

“A stay allows for a more deliberate determination whether this exercise of executive power... is proper under the dictates of federal law,” the court said.

The EPA has said it respects the court’s decision and supports more consideration on the rules. Environmental advocates who fought for the new rule argue that the ruling postpones vital protections of waterways that have been long neglected. 

“For more than a decade, the courts left thousands of our streams and wetlands in a precarious legal limbo and vulnerable to pollution and development. Now they’ve done it again," John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America, said in a statement provided to The Christian Science Monitor. "It’s hard to reconcile this outcome against clean water with either the law or the science.”

The 6th Circuit is still deciding whether the challenges must first be heard at a district court level, before the Court of Appeals has jurisdiction.

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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