Supreme Court Muddies Waters for EPA Water Rule

Federal district courts given jurisdiction over Waters of the U.S.

States seeking to maintain control over waters within their borders saw a victory from the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

The Supreme Court on Jan. 22 moved jurisdiction over an Environmental Protection Agency water rule to the lower federal district courts rather than circuit appellate courts. The move removes the issue out of the scope of direct federal control and creates a system where individual states have more power to make direct challenges to the rule and that case law can be developed more on a case-by-case basis rather than with sweeping judgments that might come from appellate courts.

In an opinion penned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Obama-era’s “Waters of the U.S.” rule should be handled by federal district courts in initial cases rather than by federal circuit appellate courts, as several issues dealing with the EPA’s Clean Water Act are.

The Waters of the U.S. rule was created to define what waters are included in the EPA’s Clean Water Act and took away control over several waters from states and put them within the scope of the federal government’s jurisdiction; the definition of that phrase has drawn challenges from dozens of parties in federal district and circuit courts as states and industry groups question when waters are considered part of the national system of “navigable waters,” but spinning off those challenges is one focused on which court has jurisdiction over the Waters of the U.S. rule.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the January 29, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.