The Supreme Court on Wednesday reinstated a Trump-era rule on enforcing the Clean Water Act. The rule limits the authority of states to block federal permits, including for fossil fuel projects.
The court ruled 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in dissent.
According to The New York Times, the court’s unsigned order gave no reason for the reinstatement, as is typical of rulings on emergency applications. The application for reinstatement was filed by eight Republican-led states and energy industry groups.
“The applicants have given us no good reason to think that in the remaining time needed to decide the appeal, they will suffer irreparable harm,” Kagan wrote in the dissenting opinion. “By nonetheless granting relief, the court goes astray.”
The Clean Water Act allows states to play a role in regulating pollution in waters nationwide by issuing permits.
However, according to business groups, ambiguities on how the law was to be applied allowed states to shut down projects for reasons unrelated to water quality considerations by simply dragging their feet in the permit process, the Times reported.
According to the Washington Examiner, Washington state denied a coal shipping port in 2018 and New York rejected a natural gas pipeline in 2020.
The Trump administration rule narrowed state certification criteria, imposed a one-year deadline to block projects and generally prevented states from culling projects for reasons unrelated to water quality, according to The Hill.
But the rule drew the ire of environmental groups and 20 states, which challenged it in court, saying it went against federal law.
After President Joe Biden took over, his administration pledged to revise the rule by 2023, the Examiner reported.
In a May 2021 news release, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would work on the revision after coming to the conclusion that the Trump rule “erodes state and Tribal authority.”
“We have serious water challenges to address as a nation and as EPA Administrator, I will not hesitate to correct decisions that weakened the authority of states and Tribes to protect their waters,” Michael S. Regan said in the release.
“We need all state, Tribal, local, and federal partners working in collaboration to protect clean water, which underpins sustainable economic development and vibrant communities. Today, we take an important step to realize this commitment and reaffirm the authority of states and Tribes.”
The Biden administration requested that judges presiding over challenges to the rule — in California, Pennsylvania and South Carolina — remand the disputes to the EPA, according to the Times.
While the judges in South Carolina and Pennsylvania agreed to the request, Judge William H. Alsup of the Federal District Court in San Francisco went further than the EPA requested and vacated the regulation.
Alsup claimed that the rule’s “scope of certification” had a “lack of reasoned decision-making and apparent errors” and that there were “indications that the rule contravenes the structure and purpose of the Clean Water Act.”
In their appeal to the Supreme Court, according to the Times, the Republican-led states argued that he “had acted without considering administrative procedures or finding that the regulation was unlawful.”
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