Judge blocks federal rule on waterways, siding with states in jurisdiction fight

A federal judge blocked a new Obama administration rule Thursday that would give the federal government jurisdiction over some state waterways.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson in Fargo, N.D., issued a temporary injunction against the rule, which was scheduled to take effect Friday. It would give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers authority over some streams, tributaries and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.


"The risk of irreparable harm to the states is both imminent and likely," Erickson said in granting the request of 13 states to block the rule. Among other things, the judge said, the rule would require "jurisdictional studies" of every proposed natural gas, oil or water pipeline project in North Dakota, which is at the center of an energy exploration boom.

The 13 states led by North Dakota asked Erickson to suspend guidelines that they say are unnecessary and infringe on state sovereignty. The federal government says the new rule clarifies ambiguity in the law and makes it easier for the states to manage some waterways.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the injunction applied to other states beyond the 13.

North Dakota Atty. Gen. Wayne Stenehjem, who filed the request, said he was pleased by the ruling.

"This is a victory in the first skirmish, but it is only the first," Stenehjem said in a statement. "There is much more to do to prevent this widely unpopular rule from ever taking effect."

The agriculture industry has been particularly concerned about the regulation, saying it could apply to drainage ditches on farmland. The EPA and Army Corps said the only ditches that would be covered are those that look, act and function as tributaries and carry pollution downstream. A tributary would be regulated if it showed evidence of flowing water such as a bank or high water mark, the EPA says.

The other states in the lawsuit are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming.