Federal judge Jeffrey Brown ruled that the administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rules announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would cause “irreparable harm” to people living in Texas and Idaho. These are the two states which challenged the rules in a lawsuit filed on January 18th, 2023.
The WOTUS rules would have allowed the federal government to regulate how wetlands, ponds, streams, lakes, and “relatively permanent” waterways are “protected”. Opponents argued successfully that this was a case of federal government overreach. It is unclear whether the rules would have included puddles, or how those would be defined as distinct from ponds or waterways.
The proposed rules, unsurprisingly, were almost identical to rules set before 2015 by the Obama-Biden administration.
The EPA announced the new WOTUS rules on the last working day of 2022.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was pleased with the ruling, saying that Texas will continue to battle the rules, but the federal court’s preliminary injunction is a “major blow to the Biden Administration’s radical environmental agenda.”
He called the unlawful waterways rules a burden that would impose “crushing new regulations” on Texans in a way that would slow the state’s economy and limit job growth.
Critics see the WOTUS rules as an example of regulatory creep, in which agencies slowly, step by step, expand the definition of what areas of activity they are legally empowered to regulate. These steps usually include incremental but expanding redefinitions of terms and practices until there is little or nothing left that the agency believes it doesn’t have the power to control.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration reversed the Obama-era rules, re-loosening restrictions on puddles and ditches, which it said could not be reasonably seen as “waterways” that the federal government had the right to control.
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