Clean Water Act

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether federal courts of appeals versus federal district courts (lower courts) have the authority to rule whether the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) regulations are lawful.

Numerous states and local governments have challenged the WOTUS regulations. In National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense the Supreme Court will not rule whether the regulations are lawful. Instead, they will simply decide which court gets to take the first crack at deciding whether they are lawful.

In United States Army Corp of Engineers v. Hawkes the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that an approved jurisdictional determination that property contains “waters of the United States” may be immediately reviewed in court. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case arguing in favor of this result.  

The issue in U.S. Army Corp of Engineers v. Hawkes is whether a court may review an Army Corp of Engineers “jurisdictional determination” (JD) that property contains “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) per the Clean Water Act. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing in favor of court review.

Hawkes wanted to mine peat from wetland property in Minnesota. The Army Corp of Engineers issued a JD that the property contained WOTUS because it was connected by culverts and unnamed streams to a traditional navigable water way about 120 miles away.

In a 2-1 decision the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it—rather than a federal district court—has jurisdiction to decide whether the Clean Water Rule, clarifying the scope of the “waters of the United States (WOTUS),” exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority.

In October the Sixth Circuit assumed it had jurisdiction and issued a temporary nationwide stay of the rule. The WOTUS rule defines “waters the United States,” according to the EPA, “through increased use of bright-line boundaries” to make “the process of identifying waters protected under the Clean Water Act easier to understand, more predictable and consistent with the law and peer reviewed science, while protecting the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s water resources.”

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In a case involving management of a watershed hundreds of miles east of his state’s border, and that will be decided by a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has taken much more than a passing interest.
He is leading a coalition of states that have filed an amicus brief asking the federal court to reject the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to require states in the Chesapeake Bay region to develop processes to reduce nutrient runoff (nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment).

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