In its latest maneuver in the complex litigation over the contentious Clean Water Rule, the Trump administration is arguing it makes little sense for courts to weigh the legality of the Obama-era regulation. Government lawyers argued in a brief filed in North Dakota district court that the courts should instead allow EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to finish reconsidering the regulation before weighing in on whether the Obama version is lawful.
The Obama administration issued the rule — also known as Waters of the U.S., or WOTUS — in 2015 to clarify which wetlands and streams receive automatic protection under the Clean Water Act. After the rule received massive pushback from states, farmers and industry, the Trump administration began a process to repeal and replace it with a version that covers fewer bodies of water.
“The rulemaking process — not litigation — is the best way forward,” the Justice Department argued in the brief filed late yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota. But the stance puts the Trump administration at odds with a coalition of states that wants the North Dakota court to declare the Obama version of the rule illegal.
“The Agencies have proposed to take action that, if finalized, would eliminate the complex challenges this case raises,” DOJ said. “This Court need not entangle itself in them; it should decline further involvement ‘until an administrative decision has been formalized.”
More broadly, DOJ defended President Trump’s ability to change rules issued by prior administrations, a legal issue that’s come up in myriad lawsuits regarding the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda.
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