The New WOTUS Proposed Rule and the Myths of Clean Water Act Federalism

by Dave Owen | December 11, 2018

Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog.

This morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA released a proposed new rule that would change the agencies' shared definition of "waters of the United States." That phrase defines the geographic scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. 

The proposed rule would narrow the scope of federal jurisdiction, primarily in two ways.  First, it would eliminate jurisdiction for "ephemeral" streams – that is, streams where water flows only during and shortly after precipitation events. Second, it would eliminate jurisdiction for wetlands that lack an intermittent or permanent surface connection to navigable-in-fact waterways and that are not directly adjacent to those waterways. In practice, this will mean removing protections for wetlands that are close to surface waterways and are connected to those surface waterways through groundwater flows.

In the rule itself, and in the rhetoric surrounding the rule, EPA, the Army Corps, and the rule's many political supporters have identified returning power to the states as a primary purpose of the rule.  The rule itself emphasizes the need for a "line between Federal and State waters," and much of the rhetoric likewise implies that where federal jurisdiction exists, state authority disappears. 

Those statements contain a little bit of truth and a lot of deception. In reality, federal jurisdiction does not eliminate state authority. Indeed, limiting federal jurisdiction will often limit states' roles.

Understanding why that is true requires ...

Two Years and Counting: Looking Forward

by Daniel Farber | December 10, 2018
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. In terms of regulatory policy, the second half of Trump's term is shaping up to look a lot like Obama's final two years in office. Congress won't be doing much to advance Trump's environment and energy agenda, as was the case with Obama. So, like Obama, Trump's focus will be on administrative action, particularly regulatory initiatives (or deregulatory ones, in Trump's case). The big question is how these efforts will fare in court. I want to ...

Two Years and Counting: A Historical Perspective

by Daniel Farber | December 06, 2018
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. This is the second of three posts assessing the first two years of the Trump administration. You can read the first post here. We all seem to be subscribed to the "All Trump News, All the Time" newsfeed. It may be helpful to step back a bit and compare Trump with his last Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. How do the two stack up? Bush and Trump were very different in character and style, but their ...

Two Years and Counting: Trump at Mid-Term

by Daniel Farber | December 03, 2018
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. In September 2017 – that seems so long ago! – Eric Biber and I released a report assessing the state of play in environmental issues 200 days into the Trump administration, based on an earlier series of blog posts. As we end Trump's second year, it's time to bring that assessment up to date. This is the first of three posts examining what Trump has done (and hasn't done) in terms of environment and energy. For ...

Act Two: Answering the Clear Mandate for Vigorous Oversight

by Matt Shudtz | November 08, 2018
For two years, President Trump has attempted to steer federal policy in ways that undercut core American values. His vision of government – to the extent one can divine a coherent vision – lacks compassion, fairness, a commitment to equal voice and opportunity, and concern for the long-term threats that families and communities cannot address on their own. Instead, the president has embarked on a campaign to remake the core institutions of our democracy in a new, authoritarian mold. And ...

Gutting Fuel Efficiency and States' Rights: The Trump EPA's Unsafe SAFE Vehicles Rule

by Hannah Wiseman | November 01, 2018
This post was originally published on ACSblog, the blog of the American Constitution Society. Reprinted with permission. On October 26, 2018, the comment period ended for a new rule that guts U.S. fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. If the final rule resembles the proposed rule, the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks (SAFE Vehicles Rule) will lock in old fuel efficiency standards, reversing Obama administration regulations mandating increased efficiency. Specifically, the ...

Fresno Bee Op-Ed: Trump Rolls Back Clean Car Standards as Air Quality Worsens

by Alice Kaswan | October 25, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in the Fresno Bee. Cities in the San Joaquin Valley continue to land among the American Lung Association's top 10 most polluted communities in the country. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the comment period closed on the Trump administration's plans to ratchet back federal emissions standards and eliminate California's authority to run its crucial car emissions programs. Although the administration has its eyes on greenhouse gas controls, what's at stake is California's ability to transition to low- and ...

OSHA's Fall Regulatory Agenda: Worker Protections Not a Priority

by Katie Tracy | October 22, 2018
The Trump administration has few plans to protect workers from emerging workplace health and safety hazards, according to the regulatory agenda released by the White House on October 16. This is nothing new for this administration, which has consistently neglected to take up worker protections, instead focusing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) resources on delaying and rolling back existing safeguards.  Among the rules in OSHA's crosshairs, the agency plans to revoke a requirement for employers with 250 or ...

Trump's Fall Anti-Safeguards Agenda: No Country for Young Children

by James Goodwin | October 17, 2018
The Trump administration's Fall 2018 regulatory agenda dropped late last night, and as with previous iterations of this preview of what's to come on the regulatory front, it is chock full of numbers – at least the kinds of numbers partisan ideologues and regulated industries care about. But what these numbers don't reveal are the kinds of things a decent society cares about. Basic things like how well we are protecting the health and welfare of children, for example. Already, ...

The EPA's Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule: Putting Money on ACE Is a Bad Bet -- Part II

by Joseph Tomain | October 10, 2018
This post is the second of a pair on the Trump administration's so-called "Affordable Clean Energy" (ACE) rule. You can read the first post here on CPRBlog.  Industry Trends In short, energy projections demonstrate a clear trend for clean energy and away from fossil fuels. These trends, directly and negatively, affect traditional electric utilities. About the time that rooftop solar financing was being consolidated by third parties such as SolarCity and Sunrun, utilities began to worry about a "death spiral." ...

The EPA's Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule: Putting Money on ACE Is a Bad Bet -- Part I

by Joseph Tomain | October 10, 2018
This post is the first of a pair on the Trump administration's so-called "Affordable Clean Energy" (ACE) rule. You can read the second post here on CPRBlog.  On August 21, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule as a substitute for the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP had been stayed from going into effect by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the purpose of the substitute rule is to establish greenhouse gas emissions ...

The Hill Op-Ed: Blind Focus on 'Energy Dominance' May Cripple Endangered Species Act

by Alejandro Camacho | October 05, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in The Hill. The bald eagle, sea otter, timber wolf — these iconic animals and more have been saved by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). But the Trump administration doesn't seem to care about our country's natural heritage. It's using questionable arguments about the popular law in an effort to gut protections and convert our public lands into private assets. The administration's destructive intent is apparent in the proposed revisions to the ESA by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ...

The Trump Administration's Acknowledgement of Climate Change Is Cynical -- and Potentially Sinister

by Melissa Powers | October 03, 2018
As Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis, and Chris Mooney of The Washington Post reported on September 27, the Trump administration seems to finally be acknowledging that climate change is real. But the motivation for recognizing that reality is cynical, at best, so rather than proposing doing something – anything – about climate change, the administration concludes we shouldn't bother trying.  Buried in a 500-page justification for a rule that would prevent California (and, by extension, other states) from regulating emissions of ...

Executive Order 12866 Is Basically Dead, and the Trump Administration Basically Killed It

by James Goodwin | October 01, 2018
Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the issuance of Executive Order 12866, but it was hardly a happy occasion. For all intents and purposes, though, the order, which governs the process by which federal agencies develop regulations under the supervision of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), is dead. Despite all the glowing praise over the years and all the exaltations of its supposed durability, its health had been in decline for several years. It was ...

Draining Washington of Science and Talent

by Laurie Ristino | September 20, 2018
Donald Trump has, in a sense, made good on his promise to "drain" Washington, D.C. – but not in the way many people probably thought he would. The exodus from our nation's capital has been made up of the scientists, diplomats, and policy experts that a democracy needs to function, not the high-powered, special interest lobbyists voters likely had in mind. Meanwhile, a raft of grifters has gleefully taken a temporary perch in the executive branch. The ensuing debacles, scandals, ...

The Socratic Method: CPR Legal Scholars Test Kavanaugh

by Matt Shudtz | September 04, 2018
Today, D.C. Circuit Court Judge and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh begins his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite the disturbing lack of transparency around his service to the country during the George W. Bush administration, the show will go on. We asked CPR's Member Scholars and staff what they would ask Judge Kavanaugh if they had the opportunity. Here are some highlights: You Can't Put a Price on Everything Ask a parent what they would pay to ...

The Hill Op-Ed: Brett Kavanaugh's Opportunistic Corner Cutting

by Rena Steinzor | August 30, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in The Hill. Tens of thousands of thoughtful — and not so thoughtful — words have been written about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s substantive positions on issues the court will face. At least one question has not been addressed, however: Is Judge Brett Kavanaugh so ideological about certain topics that he veers toward sloppiness? As a law professor, I spend a lot of time around first-year law students, introducing them to the professional standards that ...

Trump's Proposal to Replace the Clean Power Plan Endangers Public Health and the World's Climate

by Joel Mintz | August 30, 2018
This story was originally published by The Revelator. In his first 19 months in office, Donald Trump has repeatedly defied established presidential norms — so flagrantly that it almost obscures the many ways he's changed national policies for the worse. But despite all the scandals and mean-spirited tweets, it's likely that his most enduring impact will be his administration's systematic, reckless dismantling of ongoing efforts to curtail human-caused climate change. The miseries of global climate disruption are already upon us. ...

Two Years and Counting: Looking Forward

Farber | Dec 10, 2018 | Environmental Policy

Two Years and Counting: A Historical Perspective

Farber | Dec 06, 2018 | Environmental Policy

Two Years and Counting: Trump at Mid-Term

Farber | Dec 03, 2018 | Environmental Policy

Opinion Analysis: Frogs and Humans Live to Fight Another Day

Heinzerling | Nov 30, 2018 | Environmental Policy

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