WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. court on Thursday blocked a federal clean water rule from going into effect in certain states until a legal challenge has been resolved, handing a victory to states and business groups that have strongly opposed the regulation.
The U.S. District court in North Dakota granted a preliminary injunction against the so-called Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May.
The rule clarified which waters are covered by the federal Clean Water Act. It was due to go into effect on Friday.
North Dakota and 12 other states filed a lawsuit against the federal government in June, charging that the rule constituted an improper expansion of its powers over the states.
EPA said in a statement that the court’s order would only apply to the states involved in the case.
“In all other respects, the rule is effective on Aug. 28,” the agency said, adding that it is considering its next steps in the litigation.
The states asked for a preliminary injunction earlier this month, saying that implementation of the rule would cause irreparable harm.
Judge Ralph Erickson ruled in their favor, putting a hold on the rule.
“It appears likely that the EPA has violated its congressional grant of authority in its promulgation of the rule,” Erickson said in the order.
The WOTUS rule has faced intense opposition from Republicans in Congress, farmers and energy companies. Critics contend the rule vastly expands the federal government’s authority and could apply to ditches and small isolated bodies of water.
The EPA and Army Corps have argued that the rule does not create new permitting requirements and only seeks to make jurisdictional determinations more predictable.
At least 10 lawsuits have been filed in federal district courts challenging the rule, with at least 27 states joining in the lawsuits. Several petitions for review have also been filed with U.S. federal appellate courts.
“This is a victory in the first skirmish, but it is only the first,” North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in a statement. “I remain confident that the rule will be declared unlawful once all the issues have been presented.”