As a result of the recent lapse in appropriations, the US EPA and US Department of the Army (Army) delayed a planned January 23, 2019 hearing regarding the proposed new “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) definition. Publication of the proposed rule and the start of the comment period on the rule were also postponed due to the shutdown. On February 6, 2019, EPA announced that the hearing will now be held on February 27 and 28, 2019. The Office of the Federal Register has not yet published the proposed rule, which will start the clock on the 60-day comment period.
Because it determines the scope of the Clean Water Act, the definition of “waters of the United States” has been a hot-button issue since it was amended, and significantly broadened, by the Obama administration in mid-2015. The 2015 rule was challenged by 31 states and numerous other stakeholders in multiple lawsuits. In October 2015, the Sixth Circuit issued a nationwide stay of the rule. The nationwide stay was lifted when the US Supreme Court determined on January 13, 2017 that review of the rule falls within the jurisdiction of the district courts. Although the nationwide stay is no longer in effect, decisions by the US District Courts for the Districts of North Dakota, Southern District of Georgia, and Southern District of Texas, preliminarily enjoining the 2015 rule in 28 states remain in effect. Thus, the Obama-era rule is in effect in only 22 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories.