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Supreme Court reinstates Trump-era environmental regulations


Twenty states and the District of Columbia, as well as environmental groups, had challenged the rule, saying it contradicted federal law. After President Biden took office, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would review the rule and asked three judges presiding over challenges to refer them to the agency.

Notably, however, the EPA did not ask the judges to strike down the settlement while it worked on a new one. Two judges, in South Carolina and Pennsylvania, did what the agency asked.

But Judge William H. Alsup of the Federal District Court in San Francisco overturned the settlement. This decision was justified by “the lack of reasoned decision making and apparent errors in the scope of the certification rule, indications that the rule contravenes the structure and purpose of the Clean Water Act” , he said, and the fact that “the EPA itself has signaled that it cannot or will not adopt the same rule.

After the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco declined to block Judge Alsup’s ruling as an appeal progressed, Louisiana and other Republican-run states, as well as industry groups, have filed an emergency petition asking the Supreme Court to restart the regulations. They said Judge Alsup acted without considering administrative procedures or concluding that the settlement was illegal.

Writing on behalf of the EPA, Elizabeth B. Prelogar, the United States Attorney General, urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the emergency request. Judge Alsup’s decision, she wrote, merely reinstated the old settlement, which had been in place for half a century. The 2020 regulations, she added, would most likely be replaced next year.

Ms. Prelogar’s brief included an important concession. “The Federal Defendants,” she wrote, “agrees with the Plaintiffs that the District Court had no authority to strike down the 2020 Rule without first determining that the Rule was invalid.” But she said that was not enough reason to block her decision.

In her dissent, Justice Kagan wrote that the court’s decision was a solution in search of a problem.

“The stay request is based on mere assertions – on speculation, unsupported by current evidence, about what states will now feel free to do,” she wrote. “And the claim fails to show that the proper implementation of the reinstated regulatory regime – which had existed for 50 years before the overturned rule took effect – is incapable of countering any excess of state that might (but might not ) happen.”

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