Federal judge temporarily blocks Biden’s clean water rule amid challenge from 24 states

By Kate Scanlon

WASHINGTON — A federal judge April 12 blocked a Biden administration rule that would expand federal protections for thousands of smaller bodies of water, such as streams and wetlands, in 24 states across the country.

Judge Daniel Hovland of the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota issued a temporary preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of the rule, which would broaden the definition of what types of bodies of water qualify for federal water-quality protections under the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Twenty-four Republican-led states spearheaded by West Virginia challenged the rule, arguing it was federal overreach that would damage the agriculture industries in their states. Supporters of the rule argued it would protect the environment and drinking water.

The injunction comes shortly after President Joe Biden earlier in April vetoed a congressional resolution that would have overturned the rule. Both the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate used the Congressional Review Act to block the regulations, with some Democrats opposing the rule.

In a message accompanying his veto, Biden, a Catholic Democrat, argued his administration’s rule “provides clear rules of the road that will help advance infrastructure projects, economic investments, and agricultural activities — all while protecting water quality and public health.”

“Let me be clear: Every American has a right to clean water,” Biden wrote on Twitter. “This veto protects that right.”

But in his order, Hovland wrote that the challenging states “have persuasively shown that the new 2023 rule poses a threat to their sovereign rights and amounts to irreparable harm.”

An EPA spokesperson said in a statement that the agency is reviewing the injunction and their options, but defended the rule.

“The agencies remain committed to establishing and implementing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ informed by diverse perspectives,” the EPA statement said.

“Our goal is to protect public health, the environment, and downstream communities while supporting economic opportunity, agriculture, and industries that depend on clean water.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a statement that the 24 states challenging the rule are seeking an appropriate balance of power between their authority and that of the federal government.

“It’s a decades-long effort by the EPA to regulate purely intrastate waters without the explicit consent of lawmakers,” Morrisey said. “It creates unneeded delays and costs for farmers, contractors, ranchers and anyone who cares about economic activity.”

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