By Andrew H. Perellis, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule that would add an applicability date two years in the future to the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. 82 Fed. Reg. 55542 (Nov. 22, 2017).

The WOTUS rulemaking has been frought with controversy, and has generated well over a million public comments.

We have previously blogged on the WOTUS rulemaking. See Executive Order on Restoring the Rule of Law … by Reviewing the “Waters of the United States” Rule, EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Propose to Rescind Obama Era Rule Redefining “Waters of the United States”, EPA Publishes Final Rule Expanding Definition of “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean Water Act, Proposed Rule on Definition of “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean Water Act, and New Definition of “Waters of the United States”?

The November 22, 2017 proposed rule would extend the applicability date of the Obama-era 2015 WOTUS Rule by two years beyond the comment period, which closes on December 13, 2017. Should the November 22, 2017 proposed rule become “final” on that same day, which is unlikely, the earliest the 2015 WOTUS Rule could be “applicable” is December 13, 2019.

EPA claims that this applicability extension “would give the agencies the time needed to “fully reconsider” the definition of ‘waters of the United States’.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said of this proposal that it “shows our commitment to our state and tribal partners and to providing regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers, ranchers and businesses…. This step will allow us to minimize confusion as we continue to receive input from across the country on how we should revise the definition of the ‘waters of the United States’.”

EPA also reiterated that the November 22, 2017 proposed rule is separate from the ongoing two-step process the Agencies are currently undertaking to reconsider and potentially revise the 2015 WOTUS Rule. The comment period for Step 1 of the reconsideration closed in September, receiving just under 700,000 comments. Meanwhile, the agencies are still reviewing the 1.1+ million comments received from the public for the 2015 Obama-era WOTUS Rule. The Agencies are also in the process of holding “listening sessions” with stakeholders to assist the Agencies in developing a proposed Step 2 rule that would again revise the definition of “waters of the United States.”

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Seyfarth Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team.