The Trump administration has abandoned its bid to use the courts to delay the implementation of a landmark Obama-era policy protecting wetlands and waterways. But the legal action may merely be a prelude to regulatory steps that would have the same effect.
Last year, the administration attempted to pause for two years the so-called Waters of the U.S. rule, or WOTUS. But this effort was rejected by several district court judges, who ruled that the administration did not follow proper procedures to suspend the implementation of an existing regulation.
The Trump administration appealed, but on March 8 announced it would drop its challenges in two federal appeals courts—the Fourth and Ninth circuits.
This means the WOTUS rule—which redefines which bodies of water are regulated by federal anti-pollution laws— will remain in effect for the foreseeable future in more than 20 states across the country. The rule is blocked from taking effect in many other states by prior legal rulings.
Repeal Coming Soon?
But the March 8 announcement may not spell victory for fans of the WOTUS rule, including environmentalists who applauded the Obama administration’s broader definition of what counts as a federal waterway.
The Trump administration has been working for months on a new regulatory action that would repeal the WOTUS rule permanently (RIN: 2040-AF74). This repeal is scheduled to take effect later this month, according to the website of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“Rather than continuing to litigate, the agencies have decided to focus on the rulemaking actions underway,” Molly Block, a spokeswoman with the Environmental Protection Agency told Bloomberg Environment in an email March 9.
The dropped appeals court cases are S.C. Coastal Conserv. League v. Wheeler, 4th Cir., No. 18-01988, motion to dismiss, 3/8/19 and Puget Soundkeeper All. v. Wheeler, 9th Cir., No. 19-35074, motion to dismiss, 3/8/19.