EPA and the Corps of Engineers have finalized their latest iteration of the definition of ‘waters of the United States.’ It is seemingly straightforward, consisting only of a list of jurisdictional waters, exclusions, and internal definitions. Although the agencies claim that the new definition “provides clear rules of the road” regarding the scope of jurisdiction, the agencies incorporate prior expansive jurisdictional principles into the rule.
The history of the regulatory definition of WOTUS is one of ever-increasing regulation of the nation’s waters. The original definition was relatively narrow, generally including traditional navigable waters (TNW). That definition was struck down by a federal district court, who held that the Congress intended to regulate more than TNW in enacting the Clean Water Act. Since then, and even though the statutory definition in the Clean Water Act has not changed, the agencies have embarked on a decades-long effort to increase the scope of jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the 2006 Rapanos case only served to fuel the regulatory expansion of jurisdiction. Justice Scalia enunciated a narrow view of the scope of jurisdiction, generally limiting jurisdiction to TNWs, relatively permanent tributaries, and truly adjacent wetlands. Justice Kennedy, in his concurring opinion, generally included additional waters and wetlands that had a “significant nexus” to TNWs. After Rapanos, the agencies issued a guidance document (the Rapanos Guidance) which incorporated both views. Not surprisingly, the Rapanos Guidance includes a rather expansive view of what constitutes a ‘significant nexus.’Continue reading “Same Old WOTUS”