Washington judge restores Obama WOTUS rule

A judge has ruled that the Trump administration committed procedural violations when it set aside the Obama EPA's definition of Waters of the U.S.

A federal judge in Washington state today reinstated the Obama administration’s definition of Waters of the United States, a move opposed by the American Farm Bureau Federation as an unwarranted expansion of the Clean Water Act.

Judge John Coughenour of the District for Western Washington ruled the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers made a “serious procedural error” by reinstating the pre-2015 WOTUS.

The agencies took comments earlier this year on delaying the Obama administration’s definition until at least February 2020. They did not take comments on the substance of the pre-2015 rule. The move had the practical effect of changing the WOTUS rule without public comment, which violated the Administrative Procedures Act, Coughenour ruled.

Coughenour said his ruling vacates the pre-2015 WOTUS rule nationwide. A federal judge in South Carolina in August made a similar ruling prohibiting the Trump administration from delaying implementing the Obama WOTUS rule. In a footnote, Coughenour distinguished his ruling by saying it expressly vacates the pre-2015 rule.

The Puget Soundkeeper Alliance brought the lawsuit against the EPA. The American Farm Bureau Federation intervened on the side of the EPA.

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