For well more than a decade, every year has brought a new wave of WOTUS uncertainty. At all but the stroke of midnight to close out 2022, the EPA announced the final revised WOTUS rule which is set to take effect this spring, 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. If headlines about WOTUS over the past decade have confused you, fear not. You’re not alone. The two steps forward – one step back progression of the hunt for WOTUS clarity follows a switchback trail of previous and current administrations. Despite this brand-new rule, the uncertainly might not be over just yet.
Since the inception of the modern-day Clean Water Act (“CWA”), enforcement agencies and citizens alike have been seeking to define “water of the United States” in an effort to determine where federal jurisdiction of a body of water begins and ends under the CWA. Sparing the dirty details, there have been four WOTUS eras worthy of mention here.
First, commonly referred to as the “Pre-2015 Rule,” the WOTUS rule in place since the 1980s was constructed through regulation and the implementation of key agency memoranda shaped by seminal judicial opinions. The second era of mention began in 2015, when the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers (the “Corps”) issued a new rule, also known as the “Clean Water Rule” which was broader in application and was simultaneously praised as a long-overdue revision of the WOTUS rule, and also criticized as a gross overreach of authority. Due in part to legal challenges, the EPA and the Corps delayed implementation of the 2015 Clean Water Rule until 2020. Meanwhile, in 2019, the Trump administration repealed the 2015 Clean Water Rule and in 2020, proposed yet another new WOTUS rule, the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” or “NWPR,” the third mentionable WOTUS era. [READ MORE]