Judge temporarily blocks Biden water rule in Texas

A federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked the implementation of Biden administration water regulations in two states.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown, a Trump appointee, on Sunday halted the implementation of the Biden administration’s regulation in Texas and Idaho after the states requested the action.

The rule in question defines which waters get federal protections and which ones do not — a longstanding area of contention between Democrats and Republicans. In fact, congressional Republicans are currently attempting to undo Biden’s rule, though they are unlikely to ultimately prevail.

Brown issued a preliminary injunction, which halts administration rules from taking effect while the legal case against them plays out. He wrote that he would do so because of a “substantial likelihood” that their ultimate case against the rule would succeed, and that blocking the rule “eliminates the risk of enforceable penalties that set the Rule apart from the status quo.”

Brown also cited an impending Supreme Court decision on the scope of the EPA’s water authority.

But, he rejected a request from trade groups representing agricultural, fossil fuel and construction interests to block the rule nationwide, meaning the Biden rule is still active in other states. 

Brown wrote that states that haven’t challenged the rule may “welcome” it and wrote that he is “reluctant to deprive states that embrace the Rule from exercising their sovereign rights to conform their conduct accordingly — at least until the Rule’s statutory and constitutional validity has been determined.”

Waters that get federal protections require industries whose activities may pollute the waters to get federal permits before conducting their operations. 

But there has been significant debate over which waters are worth protecting, including issues of whether to protect waters that only flow during part of the year and how close a body of water would have to be to a major water source to merit regulation. 

In the past, courts have shut down both Obama-era and Trump-era rules on the matter. When the Biden rule was finalized, a former EPA lawyer said that he expected the Biden rules to have largely similar impacts to 1986 regulations that were already on the books. 

Nevertheless, Stuart Gillespie, senior attorney with Earthjustice, described the latest decision as “a setback for the public, which has long depended on the Clean Water Act to safeguard downstream communities and the environment,” in a written statement.

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