A federal judge in Texas has granted an injunction on the Biden administration's Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule in two states, Texas and Idaho while denying a second lawsuit brought by industry groups seeking to stop the rule nationwide. Judge Jeffrey Brown agreed to put the rule on hold in the two states before it was set to take effect on March 20, 2023 but denied the industry's plea to stop the rule across the country. 


The WOTUS rule has been a source of conflict for years, with industry groups challenging it in court and the Trump administration rolling back the previous administration's version of the rule. The upcoming Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. EPA could further impact the reach of the Clean Water Act and potentially conflict with the Biden administration's WOTUS rule, which is why the American Farm Bureau (AFBF) sought legal action to halt the implementation of the rule In February. The decision is expected by early summer.


American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall commented on the recent action in Texas, saying, “AFBF is pleased the District Court ordered EPA and the U.S. Army Corps to halt implementation of the troubled 2023 WOTUS Rule in Texas and Idaho. The judge recognized the new rule likely oversteps EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act, which creates uncertainty for the farmers and ranchers who must navigate the complicated regulations.


“The District Court ruling also undermines the agencies’ rationale for pushing through this new rule before the Supreme Court rules in Sackett v. EPA. These legal challenges send a clear message to EPA that it should rewrite WOTUS to limit its scope to navigable waters. Farmers and ranchers share the goal of caring for the natural resources we’re entrusted with, but we need rules that don’t require a team of attorneys to interpret.”


The implementation of the new rule adds to the ambiguity surrounding the definition of regulated waters and features, as the federal government has stated that it will evaluate each case individually to determine whether a feature falls under its jurisdiction. Although supporters of the final rule claim that the process of seeking clarification on one's property is straightforward it remains a challenging and time-consuming task that can leave agricultural land in a state of uncertainty for extended periods of time.


Despite exemptions for specific agricultural features in the updated rule, farmers and ranchers are still uncertain about how it will affect them going forward. Additionally, the EPA's messaging has shifted away from its previous assurance that the final rule would not impose any new costs or burdens on taxpayers. Instead, the agency now claims that the new rule will have "minimal impacts," raising concerns about the resources needed to enforce it.


The federal judge's decision to grant an injunction against the WOTUS rule in several states is a victory for opponents of the rule. However, the battle over the WOTUS rule is far from over. Industry groups, including the American Farm Bureau, continue to challenge the rule in court. The upcoming Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. EPA could also have significant implications for the future of the rule and the reach of the Clean Water Act, the outcome of this decision will likely impact the agricultural community for years to come. 


Arizona Farm Bureau opposes the implementation of the WOTUS rule, arguing that it is an overreach of federal authority that violates the property rights of farmers. We firmly believe that farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of their land and should be trusted to manage their resources without excessive government interference.