Last week, the U.S. District Court for North Dakota imposed a preliminary injunction against EPA’s implementation of its "Waters of the U.S. Rule" which defines the waterways and wetlands regulated under the Clean Water Act. See, North Dakota v. EPA. The Court issued its decision despite the EPA and Army Corps’ argument that exclusive jurisdiction to hear the challenge to the rule lies with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where several similar cases are currently pending review.
In order for the Court to issue a preliminary injunction it must determine that the State of North Dakota (and other challengers) have a "likelihood to succeed on the merits" once the Court makes its final determination of the legality of the rule. In holding that the State of North Dakota would likely succeed, the Court found that EPA went beyond the test articulated by Justice Kennedy in the Supreme Court’s decision in Rapanos when developing the rule:
The Rule allows EPA regulation of waters that do not bear any effect on the “chemical, physical, and biological integrity” of any navigable-in-fact water. While the Technical Support Document states that pollutants dumped into a tributary will flow downstream to a navigable water, the breadth of the definition of a tributary set forth in the Rule allows for regulation of any area that has a trace amount of water so long as “the physical indicators of a bed and banks and an ordinary high water mark” exist.
The 13 states covered under the Court’s injunction are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Practically speaking, this means that two different standards for determining federal jurisdiction over waters exist. at least under the Sixth Circuit rules.
Two other District Court’s ruled that district courts do not have jurisdiction to hear challenges to EPA’s rule defining waters of the United States because courts of appeal have original jurisdiction over “any effluent limitation or other limitation" citing § 509(b)(1) of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b)(1). See, Murray Energy v. EPA and Georgia v. McCarthy, et al.,