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Supreme Court rules federal district courts retain jurisdiction over EPA clean water rule

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously Monday in National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense [SCOTUSblog materials] that cases litigating the Clean Water Act [EPA materials] should be heard by federal district courts.

At issue is the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, which expanded the definition of "waters of the United States" to include intermittent streams, wetlands and floodplains previously considered to be under the states' jurisdiction. In a number of disputes, parties filed lawsuits in both federal appeals courts and district courts, leading to the question of who has jurisdiction over the Water of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

In February 2016 the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that it, and not lower federal district courts, has the authority to be the first court to hear the lawsuits form industry groups. The government argued [JURIST report] that the scope of 33 USC § 1369(b)(1) [text], and its seven actions which are reviewable directly to the court of appeals, apply to this case as it falls under either Subsection (E) or Subsection (F) of the act.

But the industry groups involved, led by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) [official website], say that under the Clean Water Act, lower district courts should first hear the challenges, which can then be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court resolved the issue in favor of NAM, stating, "Ultimately, the Government's policy arguments do not obscure what the statutory language makes clear: Sub­-paragraphs (E) and (F) do not grant courts of appeals exclusive jurisdiction to review the WOTUS Rule."

The court elaborated that subparagraph (E) grants appellate jurisdiction to review any EPA action in promulgating any effluent limitation; however, "the WOTUS Rule is not an 'effluent limitation' ... a conclusion the government does not meaningfully dispute. An 'effluent limitation' is 'any restriction ... on quantities, rates, and concentrations' of certain pollutants 'which are discharged from point sources into navigable waters.' The WOTUS Rule imposes no such restriction."

The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the appeals court and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the petitions for review for lack of jurisdiction.

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