Supreme Court halts ruling against Trump Clean Water Act rollback in 5-4 decision

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday halted a prior court ruling that struck down a Trump-era rule limiting state and tribal authority to veto projects that could impact their waters, including pipelines.

The Trump rule in question, which was nixed by a federal court in October, limited states’ authority to block projects by giving them a strict one-year time limit to do so. If it did not meet this time limit, the government could determine that it had waived its veto power.

The rule also limited the scope  to only those that will impact water quality. It excluded other considerations, such as air quality or “energy policy.”

The high court on Wednesday halted that vacatur, reinstating the rule for the time being, in a 5-4 decision. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s three liberal justices in dissenting.

A dissent, penned by Justice Elena Kagan, argued that the states and industry groups who had asked the court for the pause didn’t prove that not doing so would cause “irreparable harm” and therefore did not qualify for a stay.

“The applicants here have not met our standard because they have failed to substantiate their assertions of irreparable harm. The Court therefore has no warrant to grant emergency relief,” she wrote.

The Trump rule, known as the “certification rule,” came about after high-profile rejections of fossil fuel projects in left-leaning states, namely, New York’s denial of a natural gas pipeline and Washington state’s denial of a coal shipping port.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, announced last year that it would revise the rule.

“We have serious water challenges to address as a nation and as EPA Administrator, I will not hesitate to correct decisions that weakened the authority of states and Tribes to protect their waters,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a statement in May.

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