On February 6, the new rule promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which establishes an “applicability date” for the 2015 Rule redefining the regulatory definition of “Waters of the United States,” as used in many Clean Water Act (CWA) rules and as enforced and implemented by these agencies, was published. This action follows the Supreme Court’s January 22, 2018 ruling in the case of National Assoc. of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, which held that original jurisdiction to hear legal challenges to the 2015 Rule lies in the federal district courts and not the federal courts of appeal. The “applicability date” of the 2015 Rule is February 6, 2020, and this additional time will provide the agencies with an opportunity to review and revise, as appropriate, the provisions of the 2015 Rule.
Consequently, while the effective date of the 2015 Rule was August 28, 2015—and that effective date is published in the Code of Federal Regulations— no “applicability date” was included. The agencies explain that ”until the applicability date of the 2015 Rule and subject to further action by the agencies, [they] will continue to implement nationwide” the previous ( i.e., pre-2015) regulatory definition of “waters of the United States”, and will continue to interpret the statutory term “waters of the United States” to mean the waters covered by those regulations, as they are currently being implemented “consistent with Supreme Court decisions and practice and as informed by applicable agency guidance documents (the 2003 and 2008 guidance documents) as the agencies have been operating pursuant to the Sixth Circuit’s October 9, 2105, order, and the North Dakota district court’s injunction.” Thus this final rule “allows the current legal status quo to remain in place nationwide”, for at least a few more years. The agencies reference their earlier regulatory actions defining this term that were taken in 1977 and 1986.
The applicability date of February 6, 2020 of the 2015 Rule has now been added to the rules located in Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations (33 C.F.R. § 328.3) and Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (40 C.F.R. § 110.1; 40 C.F.R. § 112.2; 40 C.F.R. § 116.3; 40 C.F.R. § 117.1; 40 C.F.R. § 122.2; 40 C.F.R. § 230.3; 40 C.F.R. § 232.2; 40 C.F.R. § 300.5 and Appendix E; 40 C.F.R. § 302.3; and finally, 40 C.F.R. § 401.11).