stream-oregon-wide.jpg
May 28, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt, Dave Owen

The Whittling Away of State Clean Water Act Authority

Sometime soon, EPA is expected to release its final rule limiting state and tribal authority to conduct water quality certifications under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. A water quality certification is the most important tool states have to ensure that any federally permitted project complies with state water quality protections.

States often impose conditions on such projects that are more stringent than federal requirements in order to protect drinking water and local aquatic habitat, among other reasons. The Clean Water Act also empowers states to deny certifications and stop a project from moving forward if it would still violate the state's water quality standards even after conditions are imposed.

The rulemaking was spurred by an executive order from President Trump last year. The order directed the EPA to change the 401 certification process, with an ostensible focus on "the need to promote timely Federal-State cooperation." The executive order followed several situations in which states had declined to provide 401 certifications for fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and so its primary goal was clear: getting the states and their environmental concerns out of the way of energy infrastructure development. And while energy may have been the primary focus, section …

Jan. 23, 2020 by Dave Owen
farm-stream-02-wide.jpg

Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. Reprinted with permission.

This morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA released a final rule determining which aquatic features are covered by the Clean Water Act. Already, the press coverage is following a familiar pattern: farming lobbyists praise the rule as a major victory, and environmentalists condemn it as an abdication of clean water protection and water quality science. The former part of that pattern has always been interesting to me. It's true that the farm lobby has been a prominent and effective participant in debates about this rule and its predecessors. But I think much of its participation, and the resulting press coverage, has been misleading. This new rule does offer benefits to farmers (at a likely cost to water quality), but the benefits aren't likely to be nearly as great as the rhetoric would lead …

April 15, 2019 by Matt Shudtz
stream-oregon-wide.jpg

The federal Clean Water Act has been a resounding success as a tool for restoring our nation's waterways and preserving wetlands and other vital components of our ecosystems. But that success depends, in part, on restricting development in ecologically sensitive areas. That's why the Trump administration has proposed to narrow the scope of the Clean Water Act's protections. Not by amending the law, mind you – that wasn't possible when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, much less now. Instead, the Trump administration is trying to weaken the Clean Water Act by redefining what it means for something to be a "water of the United States."

If history is any guide, and CPR Member Scholars' assessment of the proposal suggests it will be, the Trump administration's proposal will fail. It will fail because, as Member Scholar William Buzbee recently put it to a Washington Post reporter inquiring …

July 13, 2017 by Evan Isaacson
farm-stream-01-wide.jpg

This post builds from an interview with the author for WYPR's The Environment in Focus with Tom Pelton, a portion of which aired on Wednesday, July 12, 2017.

One question I've been asked a number of times over the last several years is, "What does the Clean Water Rule mean for the Chesapeake Bay?" With EPA's recent proposal to repeal the rule, I'm once again hearing questions and speculation about what this repeal will mean for the Bay watershed.

I think the average person is rightly confused about the Clean Water Rule, sometimes called the Waters of the United States rule, and why they hear so much about it. Whereas most disputes involving environmental law are about providing the right standard or level of protection, the Clean Water Rule was simply about drawing clear boundary lines around waters that are and are not protected by the …

June 28, 2017 by Dave Owen
waterdrop_wide.jpg

Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog by CPR Member Scholar Dave Owen.

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers just released a proposal to repeal the Clean Water Rule and to return to previous regulations. The Clean Water Rule (also known as the WOTUS Rule) would have clarified the scope of federal regulatory jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. It was one of the Obama administration's signature environmental initiatives, and it was one of candidate and then President Trump's signature targets. So the emergence of this proposal is no surprise. Nevertheless, the contents of the new document are surprising in several ways.

First, I'm not sure I have ever seen a notice of proposed rulemaking that makes so little effort to justify the rule it adopts. EPA and the Corps seem to have offered two, and only two, justifications for switching from the newer regulations to …

May 24, 2017 by Daniel Farber
missouri_river_wide.jpg

President Trump ordered EPA and the Army Corps to review the Obama Administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which sets expansive bounds on federal jurisdiction over water bodies and wetlands. The agencies have sent the White House a proposal to rescind the WOTUS rule and revert to earlier rules until they can come up with a replacement. In my view, either the agencies will have to dive deep into the scientific thicket in the hope of justifying a new rule, or they will have to gamble that Trump will get another Supreme Court appointment before their action gets to the Court.

The Current State of Play

To set the stage, WOTUS (short for “Waters of the United States”) is a response to the Rapanos decision, in which Justice Scalia and three others judges argued for a very narrow definition of federal jurisdiction over streams …

March 6, 2017 by Dave Owen
stream-oregon-wide.jpg

Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog by CPR Member Scholar Dave Owen.

Last Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order directing EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to begin work on a new rule defining the scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The rule, if and when it is finalized, would replace the "Clean Water Rule" released by EPA and the Corps during the summer of 2015. Much of the political rhetoric surrounding the Clean Water Rule has suggested that the 2015 rule was responsible for massive economic impacts and that removing it will be a source of economic relief. President Trump's own remarks, for example, were riddled with such complaints. But for several years, I've been researching the implementation of federal stream and wetland protections (the results of those inquiries appear in just-published articles here and here and in an earlier …

May 31, 2016 by Dave Owen
wetlands-florida-wide.jpg

Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog by CPR Member Scholar Dave Owen

Today, the United States Supreme Court released its opinion in US Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes, Co. The key question in Hawkes was whether a Clean Water Act jurisdictional determination – that is, a determination about whether an area does or does not contain waters subject to federal regulatory jurisdiction – is a final agency action within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act. According to a unanimous court, a jurisdictional determination is indeed final agency action.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Roberts, presents the kind of short, businesslike analysis one typically associates with an uncontroversial case. But then comes Justice Kennedy's concurrence, and it's a doozy. In three paragraphs, Justice Kennedy (joined, perhaps not so surprisingly, by Justices Alito and Thomas) asserts that "the reach and systemic consequences of the Clean Water Act …

May 24, 2016 by James Goodwin
stream-rapids-mountains-forest-wide.jpg

This afternoon, the Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will convene a hearing on a topic that is fast becoming the congressional conservative equivalent of talking about the weather: the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Water Rule

With the provocative title of "Erosion of Exemptions and Expansion of Federal Control – Implementation of the Definition of Waters of the United States," the hearing is unlikely to provide a sober or thoughtful forum for evaluating the rule's merits. Nevertheless, Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar Bill Buzbee, who has been tracking this critical safeguard for several years, will do his best to keep the proceedings grounded in reality by offering testimony that rebuts the many "legally and factually erroneous" attacks that are now frequently made against the rule. 

Corporate polluters and their allies in Congress have a knack for conjuring controversy …

May 5, 2016 by Dave Owen
stream-oregon-wide.jpg

Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog by CPR Member Scholar Dave Owen.

Right now, the United States' second-most-heated environmental controversy—behind only the Clean Power Plan—involves the Clean Water Rule, which seeks to clarify the scope of federal regulatory jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. According to its many opponents, the rule is one big power grab. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, according to the standard rhetoric, are unfurling their regulatory tentacles across the landscape like some monstrous kraken, with devastating consequences for key sectors of the American economy.

In a forthcoming article, I argue that this rhetoric is false, and that it also misses a much more interesting true story. The Clean Water Rule is indeed part of a major regulatory transformation, which has extended and transformed regulatory protections for small streams. But the Clean Water Rule is just a small part …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
May 28, 2020

The Whittling Away of State Clean Water Act Authority

Jan. 23, 2020

What Do Farmers Actually Get from the New WOTUS Rule?

April 15, 2019

CPR Member Scholars to EPA: Clean Water Rule Rollback Based on Bad Law, Weak Science

July 13, 2017

The Unclean Water Rule

June 28, 2017

Repeal First, Explain Later: The Trump Administration and the Clean Water Rule

May 24, 2017

Whither WOTUS?

March 6, 2017

Myths, Realities, and the Clean Water Rule Controversy