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Federal Court Halts Lawsuit Consideration over Obama’s Clean Water Rule; Pruitt Recruits Governors to Shape New EPA Water Regulation

One of President Trump’s early campaign promises was to dismantle the 2015 Clean Water Rule, the Obama administration’s regulation asserting federal power over navigable bodies of water and aiming to replace polluting coal-fired power plants with clean energy facilities. Now, thanks to a district court ruling in D.C., Trump may be one step closer to actualizing that promise. To learn more about this ruling and its impact, read on!

On April 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a request from the Trump administration to defer for 60 days a decision on litigation targeting the 2015 Environmental Protection Agency regulation known as the “Clean Water Rule.” The rule was the signature policy piece of former President Obama’s efforts to decrease the U.S.’s carbon emissions and promote the expansion of renewable energy. However, President Trump has openly berated the policy from the campaign trail to the Oval Office, claiming it is a regulatory overreach that would kill American jobs, and signed an Executive Order last month officially initiating the repeal process.

The current President has not been the rule’s sole critic; 31 states (primarily under Republican leadership) have sued the Obama administration alongside industry groups in an effort to halt the rule, and farmers and homebuilders have also spoken out about the rule’s potential effect on farmland and property regulation. While the rule has held little bearing on the domestic economy as it has yet to formally take effect (the Supreme Court stayed the regulation in 2015 pending the resolution of all litigation), it marks an important breaking point between Trump and environmental advocates in the ongoing dialogue about the U.S.’s role in global climate change.

The D.C. district court’s ruling enables Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director Scott Pruitt to move forward on rolling back the Clean Water Rule and replacing it with new regulation. Pruitt has already begun acting on his intention of “restoring states’ important role in the regulation of water,” as he and acting Assistant Secretary for the Army Douglas Lamont issued a letter to governors on May 9 soliciting their input on a new water regulation plan. The administration ultimately intends to put forth a formal policy reflecting its approach, and will invite public comments and make changes before putting the rule into effect.

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Thomas R. Burton, III

Member / Chair, Energy & Sustainability Practice

Tom Burton has helped to shape the clean energy industry by drawing on his passion for innovation. As a Mintz attorney, Tom counsels investors, entrepreneurs, and Fortune 100 companies. He also guides start-up organizations and accelerators to foster the next generation of energy leaders.