12 May 2023 - Definition of "Waters of the United States": Rule Status and Litigation Update
On December 30, 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of the Army ("the agencies") announced the final "Revised Definition of 'Waters of the United States'" rule. On January 18, 2023, the rule was published in the Federal Register, and the rule took effect on March 20, 2023. However, as a result of ongoing litigation, the agencies are interpreting "waters of the United States" consistent with the pre-2015 regulatory regime in 27 States until further notice. See note below. The agencies developed the 2023 Rule with consideration of the relevant provisions of the Clean Water Act and the statute as a whole, relevant Supreme Court case law, and the agencies’ technical expertise after more than 45 years of implementing the longstanding pre-2015 “waters of the United States” framework. This rule also considers the best available science and extensive public comment to establish a definition of “waters of the United States” that supports public health, environmental protection, agricultural activity, and economic growth. More information about the final rule is available here.
On March 19, 2023, a district court judge for the Southern District of Texas issued an order preliminarily enjoining in Idaho and Texas the 2023 Rule issued by EPA and the Department of the Army defining “waters of the United States.” On April 12, 2023, a district court judge in North Dakota issued an order preliminarily enjoining in 24 States the 2023 rule issued by EPA and the Department of the Army defining “waters of the United States.” These States include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Note: On May 10, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued an order granting the motions of Kentucky and plaintiffs-appellants for an injunction pending appeal of the district court's decision. Commonwealth of Kentucky v. EPA (No. 23-5343) and Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, et al. v. EPA (No. 23-5345). In light of this injunction, the agencies will interpret "waters of the United States" consistent with the pre-2015 regulatory regime in Kentucky and for the plaintiff-appellants and their members in this litigation (Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Associated General Contractors of Kentucky, Home Builders Association of Kentucky, Portland Cement Association, and Georgia Chamber of Commerce) until further notice.
The agencies are reviewing these decisions and their options. The agencies continue to believe the rule, which is informed by the text of the relevant provisions of the Clean Water Act and the statute as a whole, as well as the scientific record, relevant Supreme Court case law, input from public comment, and the agencies’ experience and technical expertise after more than 45 years of implementing the longstanding pre-2015 regulations defining "waters of the United States," is the best interpretation of the Clean Water Act.
The agencies remain committed to establishing and implementing a durable definition of “waters of the United States” informed by diverse perspectives. Our goal is to protect public health, the environment, and downstream communities while supporting economic opportunity, agriculture, and industries that depend on clean water.
If a state, Tribe, or an entity has specific questions about a pending jurisdictional determination or permit, please contact a local U.S. Army Corps of Engineers District office or the EPA.
EPA is providing the below map for informational purposes only to illustrate which definition of “waters of the United States” is generally operative in each state across the country as a result of litigation, and it cannot be relied on for specific determinations or other legal purposes. As the litigation continues, EPA will update the map, when possible, to reflect the most current information that is made available to the EPA and the Army.
20 March 2023 - Final Revised Definition of "Waters of the United States" Becomes Effective
On 20 March 2023, the final "Revised Definition of 'Waters of the United States'" rule (the “2023 Rule”) became effective. The 2023 Rule is operative in all U.S. jurisdictions except the states of Idaho and Texas.
The U.S. Department of the Army and U.S. EPA (“the agencies”) final rule establishes a clear and reasonable definition of “waters of the United States” and reduces the uncertainty from constantly changing regulatory definitions that has harmed communities and our nation’s waters.
The agencies developed the 2023 Rule with consideration of the relevant provisions of the Clean Water Act and the statute as a whole, relevant Supreme Court case law, and the agencies’ technical expertise after more than 45 years of implementing the longstanding pre-2015 “waters of the United States” framework. The 2023 Rule also considers the best available science and extensive public comment to establish a definition of “waters of the United States” that supports public health, environmental protection, agricultural activity, and economic growth.
Until further notice, federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction in Idaho and Texas will continue to be determined under the pre-2015 regime (the 1986 WOTUS regulation and associated 2003/2008 (SWANCC/Rapanos) guidance documents).
If a state, tribe, or an entity has specific questions about a pending jurisdictional determination or permit, please contact a local U.S. Army Corps of Engineers District office (see https://regulatory.ops.usace.army.mil/offices/) or EPA.
More information about the final rule is available at: https://www.epa.gov/wotus/revising-definition-waters-united-states.
20 January 2023 - Draft Changes to the 2022 National Wetland Plant List
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), as part of an interagency effort with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, is announcing the availability of the draft changes to the 2022 NWPL and its web address to solicit public comments. The public now has the opportunity to comment on the proposed changes to wetland indicator status ratings for two plant species in the Arid West region. The Federal Register Notice (FRN) for the 2022 NWPL update can be found here: 2023-01026. The public comment period ends on 21 March 2023.
The two species and their draft 2022 wetland ratings by region, as well as the FRN, can also be viewed at the NWPL homepage, https://wetland-plants.sec.usace.army.mil/, under “2022 NWPL Update Information.” A link to provide general or species-specific comments is also available at this location. Users are encouraged to submit literature citations, herbaria records, experiential references, monitoring data, and other relevant information. Specific knowledge of, or studies related to, individual species are particularly helpful. Commenters should use their regional botanical and ecological expertise, field observations, reviews of the most recent indicator status information, appropriate botanical literature, floras, herbarium specimens with notation of habitat and associated species, habit data, relevant studies, and historic list information. Providing ratings without supporting documentation or information is not recommended. All submitted comments and information will be compiled and sent to the National Panel for their consideration.
USACE is also seeking comments regarding the NWPL update process and a proposed change to update the NWPL every three years, rather than the present every two years. Detailed information on the update process, protocol, and technical issues can be found in the following documents (available on the “NWPL Publications” web page referenced above):
- Lichvar, Robert W. and Minkin, Paul. Concepts and Procedures for Updating the National Wetland Plant List. Sept 2008. ERDC/CRREL TN-08-3
- Lichvar, Robert W. and Gillrich, Jennifer J. Final Protocol for Assigning Wetland Indicator Status Ratings during National Wetland Plant List Update. Sept 2011. ERDC/CRREL TN-11-1
USACE administers the NWPL for the United States and its territories. The NWPL provides plant species indicator status ratings, which are used in determining whether the hydrophytic vegetation factor is met when conducting wetland delineations under the Clean Water Act and wetland determinations under the Wetland Conservation Provisions of the Food Security Act. Other applications of the NWPL include wetland restoration, establishment, and enhancement projects. Additions or deletions to the NWPL represent new records, range extensions, nomenclatural and taxonomic changes, and newly proposed species. The latest review process began in 2022 and included review by Regional Panels and the National Panel.
30 DEC 2022 - EPA and Army Finalize Rule Establishing Definition of WOTUS and Restoring Fundamental Water Protections
On Dec. 30, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of the Army (the agencies) announced a final rule establishing a durable definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to reduce uncertainty from changing regulatory definitions, protect people’s health, and support economic opportunity. The final rule restores essential water protections that were in place prior to 2015 under the Clean Water Act for traditional navigable waters, the territorial seas, interstate waters, as well as upstream water resources that significantly affect those waters. As a result, this action will strengthen fundamental protections for waters that are sources of drinking water while supporting agriculture, local economies, and downstream communities.
1 DEC 2022 – Interim Draft of National Ordinary High Water Mark Field Delineation Manual for Rivers and Streams
On Dec. 1, 2022, USACE and EPA announced the availability of the Interim Draft of the National Ordinary High Water Mark Field Delineation Manual for Rivers and Streams (National OHWM Manual) and its accompanying data sheet.
A direct link to the announcement is here: https://www.usace.army.mil/Media/Announcements/Article/3233308/1-december-2022-release-of-the-interim-draft-of-the-national-ordinary-high-wate/. The announcement includes a link to the public notice for the release of the interim draft manual.
25 FEB 2022 - New and Revised Nationwide Permits
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announces new and revised nationwide permits. USACE published a final rule in the Federal Register that reissues 40 nationwide permits and issues one new nationwide permit for work in wetlands and other waters that are regulated by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and/or Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The final rule is available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/12/27/2021-27441/reissuance-and-modification-of-nationwide-permits and the decision documents for these nationwide permits are available at www.regulations.gov (docket number COE-2020-0002).
Additional 2021 Nationwide Permit information may be found here:
5 JAN 2022 – Navigable Waters Protection Rule Vacatur
The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the agencies”) are in receipt of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona’s August 30, 2021, order vacating and remanding the Navigable Waters Protection Rule in the case of Pascua Yaqui Tribe v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In light of this order, the agencies have halted implementation of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (“NWPR”) nationwide and are interpreting “waters of the United States” consistent with the pre-2015 regulatory regime until further notice. The agencies are working expeditiously to move forward with the rulemakings announced on June 9, 2021, in order to better protect our nation’s vital water resources that support public health, environmental protection, agricultural activity, and economic growth. The agencies remain committed to crafting a durable definition of “waters of the United States” that is informed by diverse perspectives and based on an inclusive foundation.
On November 18, 2021, the agencies announced the signing of a proposed rule to revise the definition of “waters of the United States.” This proposal marks a key milestone in the regulatory process announced in June 2021. The agencies propose to put back into place the pre-2015 definition of “waters of the United States,” updated to reflect consideration of Supreme Court decisions. This familiar approach would support a stable implementation of “waters of the United States” while the agencies continue to consult with states, tribes, local governments, and a broad array of stakeholders in both the current implementation and future regulatory actions.
A durable definition of “waters of the United States” is essential to ensuring clean and safe water in all communities—supporting human health, animal habitat, agriculture, watersheds, flood management, local economies, and industry. This rulemaking process follows a review conducted by the agencies as directed by the January 20, 2021 Executive Order 13990 on “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.”
Further details about the agencies’ plans, including information regarding the upcoming public meetings and proposed rule docket, can be found here.
An approved jurisdictional determination (“AJD”) is a document provided by the Corps stating the presence or absence of “waters of the United States” on a parcel or a written statement and map identifying the limits of “waters of the United States” on a parcel. See 33 C.F.R. § 331.2. Under existing Corps’ policy, AJDs are generally valid for five years unless new information warrants revision prior to the expiration date. See U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Guidance Letter No. 05–02, § 1(a), p. 1 (June 2005) (Regulatory Guidance Letter (RGL) 05–02).
As a general matter, the agencies’ actions are governed by the definition of “waters of the United States” that is in effect at the time the Corps completes an AJD, not by the date of the request for an AJD. AJDs completed prior to the court’s decision and not associated with a permit action (also known as “stand-alone” AJDs under RGL 16-01) will not be reopened until their expiration date, unless one of the criteria for revision is met under RGL 05-02. A NWPR AJD could also be reopened if the recipient of such an AJD requests a new AJD be provided pursuant to the pre-2015 regulatory regime. In that case, the Corps will honor such request recognizing that if the recipient of a NWPR AJD intends to discharge into waters identified as non-jurisdictional under the NWPR but which may be jurisdictional under the pre-2015 regulatory regime, such recipient may want to discuss their options with the Corps. AJD requests pending on, or received after, the Arizona court’s vacatur decision will be completed consistent with the pre-2015 regulatory regime.
As the agencies’ actions are governed by the regulatory definition at the time of the action, permit decisions made prior to the court’s decision that relied on a NWPR AJD will not be reconsidered in response to the NWPR vacatur. Permit decisions may be modified, suspended, or revoked per 33 C.F.R. § 325.7 where the regulatory criteria are met. The Corps will not rely on an AJD issued under the NWPR (a “NWPR AJD”) in making a new permit decision. The Corps will make new permit decisions pursuant to the currently applicable regulatory regime (i.e., the pre-2015 regulatory regime). Therefore, for any currently pending permit action that relies on a NWPR AJD, or for any future permit application received that intends to rely on a NWPR AJD for purposes of permit processing, the Corps will discuss with the applicant, as detailed in RGL 16-01, whether the applicant would like to receive a new AJD completed under the pre-2015 regulatory regime to continue their permit processing or whether the applicant would like to proceed in reliance on a preliminary JD or no JD whatsoever.