The controversy over the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule never really leaves the news. Case in point: last week, on May 28, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas decided to keep a preliminary injunction that prevents the enforcement of the 2015 version of the rule in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, meaning that the 2015 rule does not currently apply in those states. Meanwhile, at the end of March, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio was not persuaded by Ohio and Tennessee to issue a preliminary injunction which would have halted the execution of the 2015 rule in those states. All of this judicial activity is taking place while the Trump administration is working on a replacement for the Obama administration’s 2015 rule.
If you’re a regular follower of the Ag Law Blog, you know we’ve written numerous updates on the WOTUS saga. For a refresher, the WOTUS rule defines which waters are considered “waters of the United States,” and are consequently protected under the Clean Water Act. In 2015, the Obama administration promulgated its final WOTUS rule, which many agricultural groups and states felt regulated too many waters. Needless to say, many lawsuits over the rule ensued. The Trump administration, hoping to replace the Obama-era rule, released its new proposed rule on February 14, 2019. The comment period for the proposed rule ended on April 15, 2019. The new rule is forthcoming, but in the meantime, due to all of the litigation, whether or not the 2015 WOTUS rule is applicable varies by state. For an explanation of the 2015 rule and the new proposed rule, see our previous blog post here.
Judge continues to block 2015 WOTUS in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi…
At the end of May, Judge George C. Hanks Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas handed down a decision remanding the 2015 WOTUS rule to the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers and ordering that a previously issued preliminary injunction stay in place, meaning that the government should not implement the 2015 rule in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. While Judge Hanks declined to take up the questions raised by the plaintiffs about the constitutionality of the 2015 rule, he did determine that the agencies violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) at the rule’s conception. The APA is a federal law that controls how federal agencies must go about making regulations. Importantly, the APA dictates that agencies should give the American public notice of a proposed rule, as well as a chance to comment on a proposed rule. In the case of Obama’s 2015 WOTUS rule, the definition of “adjacent waters” was changed from being based upon a “hydrologic connection” in the proposed rule to being based on how many feet separated the waters in the final rule. Interested parties did not have any chance to comment on the change before it was included in the final rule. What is more, interested parties did not have the chance to comment on the final report that served as the “technical basis” for the rule. For these reasons, Judge Hanks found that the final rule violated the APA. As a result, he remanded the rule to the agencies to fix and left in place the preliminary injunction blocking the implementation of the rule in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
…but 2015 WOTUS still applies in Ohio and Tennessee
A decision in the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio came to the opposite conclusion of the Texas case. In March of this year, Judge Sargus denied the states’ motion for a preliminary injunction against carrying out the 2015 WOTUS rule. Sargus did not agree that Ohio and Tennessee were being irreparably harmed by having to follow the 2015 rule, and therefore did not go through with what he called the “extraordinary measure” of providing the states preliminary injunctive relief. Basically, Ohio and Tennessee were not persuasive enough in their argument, and “failed to draw the Court’s attention” to any specific harm the states faced from the 2015 rule. Therefore, as of this writing, the 2015 WOTUS rule still applies in Ohio and Tennessee.
What regulation applies in which states?
All of these lawsuits with different outcomes beg the question: what rule is applicable in which state? EPA has a map depicting which states must currently follow the 2015 rule, and which states instead must follow the pre-2015 definition of WOTUS. The map has not been updated since September of 2018. Since the last update, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin, whose governors’ mansions flipped from red to blue in November, have pulled out of lawsuits against the 2015 rule. These withdrawals could affect which version of WOTUS applies in these states.
Although the outcomes in the different lawsuits throughout the country presently affect which version of the WOTUS rule applies in which state, it is not clear how the rulings will ultimately affect the 2015 WOTUS rule. The Trump administration is currently carrying out its plan to scrap the rule and replace it with new language, which may render all of the existing legal fights over the 2015 rule irrelevant.
The new WOTUS rule, which is expected in its final form later this year, will probably not mark the end of the WOTUS debate. While implementation of the new rule will likely make the aforementioned lawsuits moot, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be out of the woods yet. With all the contention over this topic, it is likely lawsuits will be filed challenging the new rule, as well. Disagreement over what makes up WOTUS might be around for as long as rivers flow.
Throughout the month of November, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) announced proposed amendments to rules, as well as the rescission and replacement of one rule, in the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) Chapter 3717-1, the Ohio Uniform Food Safety Code. The changes are being recommended due to the required five year review of rules by ODH, as well as to “update the rules to be consistent to the current version of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Model Food Code,” which is required under Ohio law.
While most of the amendments to the rules are grammatical, or have to do with formatting or updating language, small, substantive changes are made in several rules. For instance, the proposed changes in OAC 3717-1-01 would change several definitions to be “consistent with FDA’s Model Food Code.” It would further “correct the definition of general use pesticide and restricted use pesticide to be consistent with the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s law,” among other changes. Proposed changes to OAC 3717-1-02.3 to make it mandatory for all food employees to cover or “restrain” their hair in some way. The changes recommended for 3717-1-03.2 would add requirements for the storage of utensils being used during cooking, prohibit the use of latex gloves in food service operations and retail food establishments, and add “nail brushes” to the list of control measures used by “food employees contacting ready-to-eat food with bare hands.” Changes proposed for OAC 3717-1-03.4 would add new requirements for the contents of a HACCP plan. Suggested modifications to 3727-1-08.2 would make it mandatory for the “[c]ustom processing of game animals, migratory waterfowl or game birds in a food service operation or retail food establishment…[to] be done only at the end of the work shift or day to prevent any cross contamination of product for sale or service.”
Finally, ODH proposes that 3717-1-20, which concerns existing facilities and equipment in a food service operation or food service operation, be rescinded and replaced. Although this seems like a major change, there are no real substantive changes between the current rule and the proposed replacement; ODH is simply suggesting a considerable reorganization of the rule’s wording and formatting. The entire rules package is available here.
A hearing on the changes will be held on Thursday, December 20, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. at ODH. The address is: 35 East Chestnut Street Columbus, Ohio 43215. The hearing will take place in ODH Basement Training Room A. Those who may be affected by the rules are invited to attend and participate. Any written comments must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on December 18, 2018 to ODHrules@odh.ohio.gov. More information about the hearing, as well as a brief description of the changes being made to each rule, can be found in this document.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants to hear from you. The agency published its “Identifying Regulatory Reform Initiatives” notice in the Federal Register on July 17 seeking “ideas from the public on how we can provide better customer service and remove unintended barriers to participation in our programs in ways that least interfere with our customers and allow us to accomplish our mission.”
The notice derives from the Regulatory Reform Task Force established by President Trump’s February 24, 2017 Executive Order 13777 on "Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda". order requires the heads of federal agencies to evaluate existing regulations and make recommendations to repeal, replace or modify regulations that create unnecessary burdens.
Specifically, the USDA invites the public to evaluate the agency’s existing regulations. The agency poses several questions and encourages commenters to respond in detail to the questions:
- Are there any regulations that should be repealed, replaced or modified?
- For each regulation identified in question one, identify whether the regulation:
- Results in the elimination of jobs, or inhibits job creation;
- Is outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective;
- Imposes costs that exceed benefits;
- Creates a serious inconsistency or otherwise interferes with regulatory reform initiatives and policies;
- Is inconsistent with requirements that agencies maximize the quality, objectivity, and integrity of the information they disseminate;
- Derives from or implements previous presidential directives that have been rescinded or substantially modified.
The comment process offers the agricultural community an opportunity to draw attention to USDA regulations that create unnecessary or unintended negative impacts on agriculture. Considering the wide range of programs and regulations administered by the USDA in areas such as crop and livestock insurance; Farm Service Agency programs; commodity standards, grading and inspections; animal and plant health; and agricultural exports, it’s likely that agricultural producers will have thoughts to share with the agency. To that end, USDA will accept comments for the next year, but will review the comments in four phases. The deadline for the first review is September 15, 2017.
To read the agency’s notice and instructions for submitting comments on regulatory reform, visit this link.