U.S. Judge Blocks New Federal Rule on Jurisdiction of Waterways

From the Associated Press

A federal judge in North Dakota on Thursday blocked a new Obama administration rule that would give the federal government jurisdiction over some state waterways.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson of North Dakota issued a temporary injunction against a the rule, which gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineersauthority to protect some streams, tributaries and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. The rule was scheduled to take effect Friday.

“The risk of irreparable harm to the states is both imminent and likely,” Erickson said in blocking the rule from taking effect.

Thirteen states led by North Dakota asked Erickson to suspend guidelines that they say are unnecessary and infringe on state sovereignty. The federal government says the new rule clarifies ambiguity in the law and actually makes it easier for the states to manage some waterways. It wasn’t immediately clear if the injunction applied to states other than the 13 led by North Dakota.”

The other states involved in the lawsuit are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming.

State officials in North Dakota said the new rule will cost the state millions of dollars and take away from more important programs. State Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said there’s “confusion and anxiety” among farmers and other landowners over the initiative.

At the very least, state officials argued, more time was needed to study the rule, which was finalized on May 27.

The government lawyers said during a hearing in Fargo last week that North Dakota’s objection wrongly assumes some bodies of water will be affected. They also argued the state is already going through some of the permitting procedures they’re complaining about.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem — along with attorneys general and officials from 30 other states — sent a letter last month to the EPA and the Army Corps asking that the law be postponed at least nine months. Lawyers for the states say they heard nothing back from the government, so they filed a request for a preliminary injunction.

The federal government said the request for an injunction was better suited to be heard by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rather than a federal judge, but Erickson rejected that notion.