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EPA Repeals Obama Rule Defining Waters of the U.S.

On Thursday, September 12, EPA General Counsel Matt Leopold announced EPA’s final rule repealing the 2015 Waters of the United States (“WOTUS”) Rule. Significantly, General Counsel Leopold did not announce the final replacement WOTUS Rule, which was proposed in February of this year; the replacement rule remains at the final rule stage as EPA revises the rule in light of public comment. A recent interview with Administrator Wheeler indicates that it will be a few months before the replacement rule is finalized.

The 2015 WOTUS Rule, also called the Clean Water Rule, significantly extended the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction over streams and wetlands on the basis of significant hydrological or ecological connections to traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, and territorial seas. The 2015 Rule was successfully challenged by a number of states in federal district courts on the grounds that the 2015 Rule departed from both the statutory text of the Clean Water Act and major Supreme Court decisions guiding how “waters of the United States” is to be interpreted. As a result, the 2015 Rule was effective only in 22 states, creating a patchwork of applicability that frustrated government officials and the regulated community alike.

The repeal of the rule will be effective 60 days from the official notice in the Federal Register. When the repeal rule goes into effect, the entire country will be governed by the pre-2015 status quo. The 1986 WOTUS Rule will be the basis for determining which waterbodies are WOTUS until the replacement rule is effective, and the SWANCC and Rapanos guidance documents remain in effect was well.

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About this Author

Ann Navaro, Bracelwell Law Firm, Washington DC, Environmental and Litigation Law Attorney

Ann Navaro advises on and litigates under the federal laws and policies governing natural resources and the environment. After more than 25 years as a top litigator and policy adviser to the federal government, Ann brings exceptional insight and acumen to clients seeking to build infrastructure, produce valuable natural resources, or improve government policies and programs affecting their businesses. She has held senior legal and policy positions at the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Department of the Interior, including most recently as Counselor to the...

Sara M. Burgin, Bracewell, Environmental Compliance Lawyer, Water Quality Issues Attorney

Sara provides counsel to clients on environmental issues, particularly on issues related to water. She advises on permitting, compliance and enforcement matters in association with onshore and offshore wastewater and storm water discharges; issues relating to surface water and ground water rights; water contracts; Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) plan requirements and applicability issues; Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction; issues associated with public water systems at industrial facilities; and dredge and fill permit requirements.

In addition to her water experience, Sara has also counseled clients on industrial solid waste matters related to wastewater treatment facilities and recycling/reuse of treated wastewater and/or solids resulting from treatment.

Daniel Pope Energy Environmental Attorney

Daniel Pope provides environmental permitting and regulatory assistance to industrial companies, particularly in the energy sector. He also helps in the defense of environmental enforcement actions and advises on the environmental aspects of transactional matters.

Prior to joining Bracewell, Daniel served in the Office of the Attorney General of Texas as an intern in the Civil Medicaid Fraud Division, and eventually as a law clerk in the Special Litigation Division. He also served as a judicial assistant for The Honorable Fred Biery, Judge to the US District Court for the Western...