A federal judge in Arizona has thrown out the Trump administration’s 2020 rollback of a federal law designed to protect rivers, streams and wetlands.
But the ruling by U.S. District Judge Rosemary Marquez, an Obama appointee, leaves those waters in regulatory limbo. For now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency will take their cues from a law that went into effect in 1986, a regulation widely panned as byzantine and confusing.
Farmers and developers strongly supported the Trump administration’s changes, which drastically narrowed the definition of “waters of the United States.” As a result, federal protections no longer applied to an estimated 18% of streams and more than half of the nation’s wetlands.
The pushback from environmentalists was swift. Among those in the Chesapeake Bay region who filed court action against the Trump rule were the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Friends of the Rappahannock, James River Association, ShoreRivers, and Southern Environmental Law Center.
And a coalition of 19 states and localities, including Maryland, Virginia, New York and the District of Columbia, joined a suit in federal court in California seeking to have the new rule set aside. In a separate suit, the Arizona case was led by the group Earthjustice on behalf of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and other tribes.
In her ruling, Marquez signaled that she might be open to letting the 2015 Obama administration revision stand instead of the 1986 language. She asked the two sides to submit arguments on the issue, according to E&E News.
The Arizona ruling applies to jurisdictions nationwide. But it is unclear how long it will stand. The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to be the final arbiter.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration also is working to redefine “waters of the United States.” That process is expected to take months, if not years.