A federal court blocked an Environmental Protection Agency rule on Thursday that would give the federal government jurisdiction over ditches, tributaries and other waterways normally under the control of states.
U.S. District Court of North Dakota Chief Judge Ralph Erickson placed a temporary injunction against the agency, which would delay the regulation from taking effect Friday.
"The risk of irreparable harm to the states is both imminent and likely," Erickson said in his decision favoring the 13 states that sued the EPA over its Clean Water Rule, formerly the Waters of the U.S. rule. The rule has become a favorite target of Republicans as an example of federal overreach.
The judge said the water rule requires more study, including "jurisdictional studies" of natural gas, oil and water pipeline projects in North Dakota. The state is a leading U.S. producer of oil derived from shale rock formations deep underground.
North Dakota led the charge against EPA in the court, arguing that the rule violated state sovereignty.
The judge's decision immediately triggered applause from Republicans who have been fighting the rules as an abuse of power.
"The EPA's vastly unpopular Waters of the U.S. rule would begin a new era of government control over private property," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. "Over the last year and a half, the EPA has continually ignored the legitimate concerns of states, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, farmers and landowners who will be impacted."
Smith pointed out the "irony of this rule," saying that while the EPA looks to control more of the states' waterways, it failed immensely by releasing millions of gallons of toxic sludge into three states' waterways in the West. Smith was referring to the Aug. 5 toxic wastewater spill in Colorado that was caused by EPA contractors.
His committee, as well as others, will begin hearings on the EPA toxic spill in September after Congress returns from its August recess.
"While the agency has been frantically working to regulate the trickle of small streams in Americans' backyards, the EPA has failed at its core mission to protect the environment and is responsible for a toxic spill that polluted waterways impacting at least three different states," Smith said.
He added that the "Waters of the U.S. rule should be halted until EPA can clean up its act and get its priorities in order."
A spokeswoman for Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the "rule is unlawful and an abuse of executive power."
"The judge's decision to block the rule — which was challenged by 13 states — is encouraging, especially as EPA's credibility has been questioned in the past month," said committee spokeswoman Julia Slingsby. "The EPA needs to be stopped before it does more harm to our nation's precious water resources."
A special joint oversight hearing with the Natural Resources Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee will be held Sept. 17 on the EPA toxic spill. Smith has scheduled his hearing for Sept. 9.