On June 29, 2018, USEPA issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (the “Supplemental Notice”) to its July 2017 proposed action to repeal the 2015 definition of “waters of the United States” adopted under the Obama Administration. The Supplemental Notice includes additional justification for the repeal of the 2015 definition, and also clarifies that USEPA is still seeking to repeal the entirety of the 2015 definition as step one in a two-step process. The second step, yet to be initiated, will be to adopt a new regulatory definition for waters of the United States based on Justice Scalia’s opinion in the Rapanos plurality opinion.
The 2015 definition has yet to go into effect due to a combination of court-issued stays, and, more recently, USEPA’s promulgation of a final rule adding an effective date to the 2015 definition which delays its effectiveness until 2020. This effective date delay rulemaking is currently under legal challenge by a variety of states and environmental groups, as is the 2015 definition itself being challenged in court by a different group of states as well as industry groups.
Given the volume and variety of litigation that has already occurred surrounding the definition of waters of the United States, any final rulemaking repealing the 2015 definition will almost assuredly be subject to additional litigation. The Supplemental Notice may represent USEPA’s effort to provide better support for a future final rule to withstand any such challenge.
USEPA is accepting additional comments on the Supplemental Notice for 30 days following its publication in the Federal Register, until August 13, 2018. Comments can be submitted under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0203 at https://www.regulations.gov/.