13 states ask judge to delay new federal water rule

AP News
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Posted: Aug 10, 2015 8:54 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Thirteen states led by North Dakota asked a federal judge on Monday to delay a new rule that gives federal authorities jurisdiction over some state waters.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem filed a motion late Monday in Bismarck seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the rule from taking effect on Aug. 28.

Stenehjem said he was hopeful a judge will grant a hearing on the injunction within the next few days.

North Dakota is leading a lawsuit filed on June 29 challenging the Obama administration rule that gives federal agencies authority to protect some streams, tributaries and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. Stenehjem said the "Waters of the U.S." rule by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers is "unnecessary" and "unlawful." He said it does nothing to increase water quality in North Dakota and other states.

"The rule is perhaps the most controversial and widely objectionable rule that would usurp state and local control over vast reaches of water in North Dakota and across the nation," Stenehjem said in a statement. "It is an unnecessary and unlawful power grab by the federal government that will do nothing to increase water quality in North Dakota."

The rule is a response to calls from the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress for the EPA to clarify which smaller waterways are protected. The EPA says the new law aims to help landowners understand which waters fall under the Clean Water Act.

Landowners — and especially farmers — are worried even a ditch or puddle could fall under federal regulations.

Other states joining the lawsuit with North Dakota are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The request for a preliminary injunction comes after Stenehjem and attorneys general and officials from 30 states sent a letter last month to the EPA and the Army Corps asking that the new law be postponed at least nine months.

"A federal regulation of this scope and significance demands a thorough judicial review before imposing costly and disruptive burdens on the states and their citizens," the letter said.

The federal agencies have not responded to the letter.

Robert Daguillard, an EPA spokesman is Washington, said Monday that his agency is still "carefully reviewing" it.

In addition to the lawsuit led by North Dakota, dozens of others have been filed by business, agriculture groups and others in at least eight U.S. district courts.

The EPA and the Army Corp have asked that the lawsuits be consolidated in a single district court.

Stenehjem said the request for an injunction he filed Monday also asks that the lawsuits not be consolidated.

"We think we have specific arguments," he said.