389 F.Supp.3d 497 (S.D.Tex. 2019), C. A. 3:15-CV-00162, Texas v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

Docket Nº:Civil Action No. 3:15-CV-00162
Citation:389 F.Supp.3d 497
Opinion Judge:George C. Hanks Jr., United States District Judge
Party Name:State of TEXAS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, et al., Defendants.
Attorney:Brantley Starr, Jessica Amber Ahmed, Lisa Anne Bennett, Linda B. Secord, Office of the Attorney General of Texas, Craig James Pritzlaff, Attorney General of Texas, Environmental Protection Div., Austin, TX, Megan Kathleen Terrell, Environmental Section, Asst. Atty. General, Baton Rouge, LA, Mary ...
Case Date:May 28, 2019
Court:United States District Courts, 5th Circuit, Southern District of Texas
 
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Page 497

389 F.Supp.3d 497 (S.D.Tex. 2019)

State of TEXAS, et al., Plaintiffs,

v.

UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 3:15-CV-00162

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

May 28, 2019

Page 498

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 499

Brantley Starr, Jessica Amber Ahmed, Lisa Anne Bennett, Linda B. Secord, Office of the Attorney General of Texas, Craig James Pritzlaff, Attorney General of Texas, Environmental Protection Div., Austin, TX, Megan Kathleen Terrell, Environmental Section, Asst. Atty. General, Baton Rouge, LA, Mary Jo Woods, Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, Jackson, MS, for Plaintiffs.

Amy J. Dona, Andrew J. Doyle, Daniel R. Dertke, U.S. Dept. of Justice Environmental Defense Section, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

George C. Hanks Jr., United States District Judge

Before the Court are the Private Party Plaintiffs’[1] Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 156) and the Plaintiff States’2 Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 157). After reviewing the motions, the responses, the replies, the amici curiae briefs, and the applicable law, the Court GRANTS the motions. Accordingly, the Court ORDERS

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that the "Clean Water Rule: Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ " (the "Final Rule"), 80 Fed.Reg. 37,054 (June 29, 2015), be REMANDED to the appropriate administrative agencies for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. Furthermore, the Court ORDERS that the preliminary injunction issued by this Court on September 12, 2018 (Dkt. 140) remain in place pending the proceedings on remand.

Factual Background and Proceedings

In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act ("the Act") with the stated objective of "restor[ing] and maintain[ing] the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters." 33 U.S.C. § 1251(a). To that end, the Act made it "unlawful" to "discharge...any pollutant" into "navigable waters," which were defined as "the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas." Id. § 1311(a); id. § 1362(12); id. § 1362(7). "Because many of the Act’s substantive provisions apply to ‘navigable waters,’ " the definition of the "phrase ‘waters of the United States’ [effectively] circumscribes the geographic scope of the Act." Nat’l Ass’n of Mfrs. v. Dep’t of Defense, __ U.S. __, 138 S.Ct. 617, 624, 199 L.Ed.2d 501 (2018). However, the Act does not define this phrase.

To "provide clarity and [ ] avoid confusion," the United States Army Corps of Engineers (the "Army Corps") first defined the phrase "waters of the United States" ("WOTUS") in 1986.3 Since then, this definition has remained relatively unchanged. See 58 Fed.Reg. 45,008, 45,036 (Aug. 25, 1993) (amending the definition of the phrase WOTUS to clarify that it does not include "prior converted cropland."). Yet, the idea of what is a WOTUS is still an unsettled question. Indeed, the Supreme Court has wrestled with providing a precise definition over the past 30 years. See United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, 474 U.S. 121, 123, 106 S.Ct. 455, 88 L.Ed.2d 419 (1985); see also

Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 531 U.S. 159, 162, 121 S.Ct. 675, 148 L.Ed.2d 576 (2001); see also Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715, 719, 126 S.Ct. 2208, 165 L.Ed.2d 159 (2006). To this day, the Circuits disagree as to how the phrase WOTUS should be interpreted. See

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United States v. Robison, 505 F.3d 1208, 1221 (11th Cir. 2007) (holding that Justice Kennedy’s concurrence in Rapanos provided the controlling test for what is a navigable water under the Act); United States v. Bailey, 571 F.3d 791, 799 (8th Cir. 2009) (approving of the use of the plurality’s opinion and the Kennedy opinion in Rapanos as the controlling test for determining what is a navigable water); United States v. Chevron Pipe Line Co., 437 F.Supp.2d 605, 613 (N.D. Tex. 2006) (applying pre-Rapanos Circuit precedent because it could not discern clear direction from Rapanos ).

Against this backdrop, the Army Corps and the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") (collectively, "the Agencies") set out to "make the process of identifying ‘waters of the United States’ less complicated and more efficient." 79 Fed.Reg. 22,188, 22,190 (Apr. 21, 2014). The Agencies also wanted to ensure that the Act enabled jurisdiction over "a particular category of waters," which "either alone or in combination with similarly situated waters in the region, significantly affect[ed] the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, or the territorial seas." Id. at 22,197. For these reasons, the Agencies jointly proposed a new definition of the phrase WOTUS in 2014 (the "Proposed Rule").4 The technical basis for this newly Proposed Rule was a preliminary report drafted by the EPA that reviewed "more than a thousand publications from peer-reviewed scientific literature" and discussed the connected nature of the nation’s waters (the "Draft Connectivity Report"). Id. at 22,197; Dkt. 180 at Tab M.

"Intend[ing] to...simpl[ify]" the previous definition of WOTUS, the Proposed Rule generally "separate[d] waters into three jurisdictional groups— waters that are categorically jurisdictional (e.g., interstate waters)" ("Categorically Covered Waters"); "those that require a case-specific showing of their significant nexus to traditionally covered waters (e.g., waters lying in the flood plain of interstate waters); and those that are categorically excluded from jurisdiction (e.g., swimming pools and puddles)." Nat’l Ass’n of Mfrs., 138 S.Ct. at 626. In furtherance of this goal, the Proposed Rule defined the term "adjacent"— which would be used in determining whether the Agencies have jurisdiction over "(6) [a]ll waters...adjacent" to a Categorically Covered Water— as meaning "bordering, contiguous or neighboring." 79 Fed.Reg. at 22,263. And in turn, the term "neighboring" was defined as "waters located within the riparian

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area or floodplain of a [Categorically Covered Water], or waters with a shallow subsurface hydrologic connection or confined surface hydrologic connection to such a jurisdictional water." Id. (italics added).

For three months after its publication, the Agencies allowed interested parties an opportunity to comment on the Proposed Rule and its jurisdictional grouping scheme. See Dkt. 180 at Tab J, Tab K, Tab L. After this notice-and-comment period closed, the Science Advisory Board issued its revisory comments for the Draft Connectivity Report. See 79 Fed.Reg. 63,594 (Oct. 24, 2014). In response, the Agencies reopened the comment period for the Proposed Rule for another month. Id. However, the Agencies declined to do the same after issuing the revised version of the connectivity report on January 15, 2015 (the "Final Connectivity Report"). 80 Fed.Reg. 2,100 (Jan. 15, 2015). This meant that the Proposed Rule was never open for public comment after the Final Connectivity Report was finalized.

Almost six months after publishing the Final Connectivity Report, the Agencies released the Final Rule on June 29, 2015, which proposed a different...

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