Jurisdiction Question Keeps “Waters” at Bay


On October 9, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in a split decision, stayed the implementation of the new rule redefining the regulatory definition of “waters of the United States” (the Rule), which is the linchpin of much of the federal government’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The case is State of Ohio, et al., v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Rule, promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Corps of Engineers, was published in the Federal Register on June 29, 2015, and was to be effective on August 28, 2015. The Rule has been challenged and defended in many federal district and appellate courts, and the four actions that were considered by the Sixth Circuit followed the decision of the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation to consolidate these appeals in the Sixth Circuit. The petitioners in these four actions also requested that the Sixth Circuit stay the Rule while it determines whether it even has jurisdiction over this case, given the complexity of the CWA’s provisions regarding judicial review.

The Sixth Circuit agreed that it made sense to do so, to allow the parties to submit briefs on the Sixth Circuit’s jurisdiction, which the court will review carefully, and the Sixth Circuit also indicated that its decision should be made “in a matter of weeks.”

In issuing the stay, the Sixth Circuit noted that it had some misgivings about the Rule and the EPA’s and Corps of Engineers’ processes by which the Rule was promulgated. In any case, a stay will “temporarily silence the whirlwind of confusion that springs from uncertainly about the requirements of the new Rule,” honors the “policy of cooperative federalism,” and will restore “uniformity of regulation under the familiar, if imperfect, pre-Rule regime, pending judicial review.” As a result of this action, the status quo will be maintained pending further review.

Additional Source:  80 F.R. 37054 (Jun. 29, 2015)