U.S. top court to mull where challenges to clean water rule can be heard

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., November 15, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to resolve a dispute over what court should handle challenges to a 2015 Obama administration regulation that defines waterways protected under a federal anti-pollution law.

The justices said they would hear an appeal by the National Association of Manufacturers of a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court’s ruling that gave itself jurisdiction to review challenges to the Clean Water Act regulation. The industry group wants challenges to the rule to be heard in district courts.

What constitutes protected waters is hugely important to landowners, industry and environmental groups, as well as government officials.

The legal dispute relates to a provision of the Clean Water Act that funnels reviews of certain types of government actions directly to courts of appeals, and others to federal district courts.

Dozens of agricultural groups, states and municipalities had sued U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which adopted the new definition, in district courts. The challengers contend the agencies’ change improperly expanded federal regulatory power.

In February 2016, the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it had jurisdiction to review the challenges.

In its petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the matter, the manufacturers’ association said the fight over what court should handle the challenges caused needless delay, wasted valuable resources and is one that only the high court can resolve.

The case is National Association of Manufacturers v. U.S. Department of Defense et al, 16-299, in the Supreme Court of the United States.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham