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State officials applaud court ruling on Waters of the United States

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Some prominent Missourians are ecstatic on a decision they say gives states instead of the environmental protection agency jurisdiction over their waters.

Three Sixth Circuit Court judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to grant a stay to a group of states that have fought a recent definition change of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Obama Administration changed the definition to cover more waterways, which have certain protections under the law.

This new rule would, in turn, give regulation to the federal agency of waterways that were conventionally under state jurisdiction.

While Missouri is not a petitioner on this particular lawsuit, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster joined a similar lawsuit earlier this year that reached the same verdict in North Dakota late in August.

The rule change has sparked fierce opposition from the agricultural and industrial sectors, and the court sided with their view that the EPA does not have the jurisdiction to unilaterally change the definitions to WOTUS.

“We conclude that petitioners have demonstrated a substantial possibility of success on the merits of their claims,” Judge David McKeague wrote in his ruling. “Petitioners first claim that the Rule’s treatment of tributaries, ‘adjacent waters,’ and waters having a ‘significant nexus’ to navigable waters is at odds with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rapanos, where the Court vacated the Sixth Circuit’s upholding of wetlands regulation by the Army Corps of Engineers.”

The stay will force the EPA to stop enforcing the rule change until they another verdict is rendered when they are expected to appeal.

The EPA says the Clean Water Act “establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters.” The EPA has tried to gain authority over small waterways such as dry creek beds, ponds and drainage ditches in order to prevent small waterways from polluting bigger bodies of water when the bodies of water converge.

Earlier this year, Missouri and other states that are largely concerned by federal laws affecting their agricultural industry claimed lawsuits against the EPA. In August, Koster cited “massive overreach” when he filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s legal authority in defining what constitutes a U.S. waterway.

There has been persistent resistance in Missouri against the EPA attempt to gain control of local and small waterways of Missouri through the language of the Clean Water Act.

Most recently, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican candidate for governor, approved of the move by federal courts to temporarily cease the WOTUS rule initiated by the EPA.

“I applaud the court for recognizing that such sweeping changes need to be the product or reasoned deliberation between all stakeholders, not fanciful executive fiats,” he said. “The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule is a bad idea that will cripple the livelihood of Missouri farmers and ranchers and their ability to produce food. The EPA should respect the limits set by Congress. Protecting Missouri waterways must remain a state regulatory function, and the Missouri DNR should be prevented from implementing these oppressive regulations imposed on them by bureaucrats in Washington.”

Additionally, Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, added language around the same time to HR 2028 that would prohibit the EPA from stretching its hands into funds to implement its rules on WOTUS.

Others around the state have voiced their concern with the rule change. Rep. Craig Redmon, R-Canton, who serves on the Appropriations Committee for Agriculture and Natural Resources, has heard discontent with the new rules from EPA during encounters with farmers and other local businesses in state-wide banquets.

“I applaud the action against the EPA and their overreach of Waters in the United States,” Redmon said. “They far exceeds any authority that they should have, and the public was not taken into consideration.”

Rep. Robert Ross has been strongly opposed to the regulation since August.

While groups like the Missouri Farm Bureau support the state’s attempts to challenge the federal authority over local waterways, environmental groups, like the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, believe the EPA’s added rules to be beneficial to the clean-up of state waterways and litigation attached to those waterways – emphasizing Missouri’s failure to meet the 1983 deadlines of the Clean Water Act.

Travis Zimpfer contributed to this report.