Attorney General Scott Pruitt on Friday said a federal appeals court granted a request by his office and 17 other states to block the implementation of the EPA’s “waters of the United States” rule nationwide.
In a published decision, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Oklahoma and the other states proved they were likely to succeed on the merits of their various lawsuits challenging the rule, known as the WOTUS rule. The court said staying enforcement of the rule “temporarily silences the whirlwind of confusion” caused by the WOTUS rule and “honors the policy of cooperative federalism” by returning power to the states. This is the second federal court to decide that the WOTUS rule is likely unlawful; no court has decided otherwise.
“The WOTUS rule is a devastating blow to private property rights and is an unlawful power grab by the EPA over virtually all bodies of water in the United States. Oklahoma and other states, as well as several private-sector groups, are challenging this unlawful rule. Until those legal challenges are settled, it’s entirely appropriate that the federal courts block implementation of the WOTUS rule.
“This is certainly a win for Oklahoma, but the legal fight moves forward as we work diligently to roll back WOTUS,” Attorney General Pruitt said.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, also released a statement following the action of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals:”
“The Sixth Circuit’s order to suspend nationwide the implementation of the Obama administration’s final WOTUS rule is a victory for all states, local governments, farmers, ranchers, and landowners.
“The EPA and Army Corps admitted in February before Congress that the proposed rule was flawed and ambiguous, yet the agencies continued forward and finalized the rule in May. Instead of fixing the overreach, EPA made it broader. In issuing the stay, the court determined that ‘petitioners have demonstrated a substantial possibility of success on the merits of their claims.’ This means that the court is likely to overturn the rule. Because this process can take several years, the Sixth Circuit’s ruling makes it all the more important for Congress to pass the bipartisan ‘Federal Water Quality Protection Act’ to provide direction to EPA to develop a different rule. This legislation will require EPA to consult with states, local governments and small businesses and will prevent federal agencies from using the WOTUS rule as a mechanism to control land.”
The EPW Committee has held more hearings on the WOTUS rule than any other issue to date. The following are actions taken by Inhofe or the committee regarding WOTUS:
- On Sept. 30, the EPW Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water held a hearing entitled, “Oversight of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Participation in the Development of the New Regulatory Definition of WOTUS,” with Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army, as a witness.
- On Aug. 20, Inhofe sent a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, and Ken Kopocis, deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Water, asking them to address the application of the new WOTUS definition to city sewer systems, using Washington, D.C. as an example. Under the new WOTUS rule, agencies inter to use historical maps and historic aerial photographs to identify the former locations of water features like streams. Many city sewer systems are located in former streams, as is evident from maps of Washington, D.C.
- On July 14, Inhofe led Republican members of the committee in a letter to EPA Adm. Gina McCarthy requesting the legal justification for the WOTUS rule. This was a follow-up request to Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-Alaska) initial request on March 4, 2015.
- On June 10, the bipartisan Federal Water Quality Protection Act (S.1140) was passed out of the committee. The legislation was first introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) on April 30.
- On May 22, Inhofe joined Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) in sending a letter to EPA Adm. Gina McCarthy expressing concerns and requesting answers regarding a recent New York Times article that reported the EPA may have conducted an unprecedented, and possibly illegal lobbying and marketing effort on behalf of the controversial WOTUS rulemaking in order to inflate the number of positive public comments.
- On May 19, the EPW Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife held a legislative hearing on S.1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act.
- On April 30, Inhofe joined Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) in introducing the Federal Water Quality Protection Act. The bipartisan legislation will ensure the protection of traditional navigable waters of the United States. It also protects farmers, ranchers and private landowners by directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a revised “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule that does not include things such as isolated ponds, ditches, agriculture water, storm water, groundwater, floodwater, municipal water supply systems, wastewater management systems, and streams without enough flow to carry pollutants to navigable waters.
- On April 6 and 8, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-S.D.), chairman of the EPW Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife held two field hearings – one in Anchorage, Alaska and the other in Fairbanks, Alaska – to examine local impacts of EPA’s proposed WOTUS rule on state and local governments and stakeholders.
- On March 14, the EPW Committee held a field hearing chaired by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) in Lincoln, Nebraska. The hearing focused on the impact of the proposed WOTUS rule, which would expand federal regulation of water in Nebraska.
- On Feb. 4, the EPW Committee held a bicameral hearing with the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that examined the impacts on state and local governments of a proposed rule to expand federal regulation of waters under the Clean Water Act. Witnesses in attendance included EPA Adm. Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Work Jo-Ellen Darcy as well as local government leaders. Following the hearing Inhofe and House T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster called for the EPA to withdraw the proposed WOTUS rule.