Waters of the State

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 15, Issue 42

On Friday, October 9, 2015 the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a stay of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) new rule defining the scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (The Clean Water Rule). Until we hear otherwise, the Clean Water Rule is no longer in effect across the entire nation. The nationwide stay may be short-lived, and is contingent upon how the Sixth Circuit answers the key question regarding its own jurisdiction. There is a briefing on the jurisdictional issue is scheduled for completion on November 4, and the court indicated that its decision could be issued “in a matter of weeks.”

There are two sets of state lawsuits that have arisen as a result of the August, 28, 2015 Clean Water Rule. The first was alliance of 18 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) that filed motions with the Court seeking (1) a stay of the rule during the pendency of the court’s proceedings and (2) a ruling from the Sixth Circuit that it lacked jurisdiction to hear their appeals (enabling pursuit of their cases before the district courts). On July 28, 2015, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all Court of Appeals cases in the Sixth Circuit.

On August 27, 2015, the U.S. District Court for North Dakota granted such a motion filed by a second set of 13 states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming, and New Mexico). This was one day before the new Clean Water rules was set to go into effect. On September 4, 2015, the court clarified that the rule was enjoined only in the 13 plaintiff states, not nationwide. The EPA and the Corps promptly informed the public that enforcement of the new rule in all but the aforementioned 13 states would commence effective August 28, 2015. Enforcement would also pertain the 18 states in the other case.

The Sixth Circuit Court in a 2-1 decision issued a stay of the new Clean Water Rule on October 9, 2015. Two judges in the majority found that the petitioners had demonstrated a “substantial possibility of success on the merits of their claims,” specifically mentioning that it was “far from clear” that the new rule’s distance limitations were harmonious with the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Rapanos. The court also indicated that the process by which the distance limitations were adopted was “facially suspect” because the proposed rule did not include distance limitations, calling into question whether the final rule was a logical outgrowth of the proposal (as required under the Administrative Procedure Act). Finally, the court found that the government had not “persuasively rebutted” the petitioners’ argument that the rule’s bright-line distance limitations were devoid of specific scientific support.

In an interesting twist, the lone dissenting judge did not reach the merits of the petitioners’ motion, believing it was “not prudent for [the] court to act before it determines that it has subject-matter jurisdiction.” The majority of 2 countered that it had “no doubt” of the court’s authority to make orders preserving the status quo pending consideration of the outstanding jurisdictional question.


At the heart of this matter is the concept of states’ rights. The issue is that under the Clean Water Act the state makes the water quality decisions in regards to impacts to both waters of the US and waters that the state has legislated as jurisdictional by the state. As a not so minor point of fact, the Clean Water Rule has nothing to do with improving water quality. It simply designates what is and what is not regulated by the federal government. There is not one syllable in the rule that discusses how the implementation and enforcement of the rule will benefit water quality. We the regulated public are left to assume that if the federal government regulates the waterbody, it will by default become cleaner. It does not take much research to document that this is rarely the case. The recent disaster in Colorado comes to mind.

It is for this reason that under section 401 of the Clean Water Act the states are responsible for water quality decisions. The authors of the original Act recognized this for simple reason that water quality is best managed on a local level. It is simply not possible for a federal entity to have the sensitively to the local needs. This is underscored by another aspect of the Clean Water Act’s goal of transferring jurisdictional determination and permitting roles to the state. This is laid out in detail under section 404(g). It was never the intention of the Act’s authors for the federal government to perpetually run the Clean Water Act programs. Rather it was their intent to transfer this role to the states.

The EPA and Corps are on Constitutional shaky ground. At issue is the role of the federal government. In every wetland related Supreme Court case the Court has ruled based upon the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The federal government can only regulate waters of the US in so far as the impacts to them effect interstate or foreign commerce. Unfortunately, the concept of significant nexus as defined by Justice Kennedy in the Rapanos case has been widely misinterpreted. A significant nexus to downstream waters has to effect interstate or foreign commerce in order to make a water body federally jurisdictional. Making the clean water “dirty” is not the same thing. The Commerce Clause must be satisfied to enable federal jurisdiction.

The states are not limited by the Commerce Clause. If the voting public in a state decides to pass legislation though their state representatives to protect a certain water body type, they are empowered to do this. However, this must take the form of legislation and not rule making. When the Supreme Court ruled in the SWANCC case that isolated wetlands (not commerce connected) are not federally jurisdictional, many state environmental departments tried to enforce rules to protect these types of wetlands. If there was not enabling state legislation, these rules fell apart.

The bottom line is the question as to whether the federal government can mandate regulation over land that would otherwise be regulated by the state without satisfying the Commerce Clause. There is also the small matter of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) question as to the manner in which the rules have been vetted thought the public review process. It was sort of a bait and switch operation. However, this may delay the implementation of the Clean Water Rules but it most likely will not derail it. That matter is left to the state cases.

Summer Storms

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 15, Issue 35

The new Waters of the US (WOTUS) rules went into effect last week. Well they sort of did. On August 27, 2015, one day before the rules were set to take effect, two WOTUS rules federal court cases where decided. One supported the rules and one did not.

United States District Courts in Georgia and West Virginia agreed with the Agencies that legal challenges to the Rule could only be brought in the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit and therefore denied the requests for preliminary injunction. Therefore the rule stands and can move ahead on August 28, 2015.

The District Court for North Dakota found that it had jurisdiction and granted the request of a number of States and issued a decision preliminarily enjoining the Clean Water Rule. Under the order issued by the Court, the parties that obtained the preliminary injunction are not subject to the new rule, and instead continue to be subject to the prior regulation. In light of the order, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers will continue to implement the prior regulation in the following 13 States: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

The decision of the District Court was that the WOTUS rule is a risk to state sovereignty because it asserts federal jurisdiction over wetlands and waters that would normally be subject to state government regulation. In this case, the District Court determined that the states were likely to succeed on the merits as the EPA had adopted an “exceptionally expansive” view of its own jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. According to the court, the WOTUS rule “allows EPA regulation of waters that do not bear any effect on the ‘chemical physical, and biological integrity’ of any navigable-in-fact water,” and therefore exceeds the limits on federal regulatory authority identified by the Supreme Court in Rapanos.

There was and perhaps still is a lot of confusion about whether the remaining 37 states are still required to abide by the new WOTUS rule. EPA has been leading the charge on the rule and thus far provided no written guidance as a result of the Court’s ruling. However, a number of media sources including the NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Hill, AP, and Reuters cite an EPA representative as a source. Some name the EPA spokesperson, some do not. So far there has been nothing formally published in the form of an official new release from EPA. The following is from the Wall Street Journal as quoted in The Hill.

“The Clean Water Rule is fundamental to protecting and restoring the nation’s water resources that are vital for our health, environment, and economy,” EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said. “EPA and the Department of the Army have been preparing to implement the rule on the effective date of August 28.”

The preliminary injunction, Harrison said, applies only in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

“In all other respects, the rule is effective on August 28,” she said. “The agencies are evaluating these orders and considering next steps in the litigation.”

The Army Corps of Engineers posted an announcement on the headquarters website the following guidance.

“In light of the order, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers will continue to implement the prior regulation in the following States: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.”

“In all other States, the new Clean Water Rule is effective on August 28.”

I am not sure if a web post counts as guidance, but it is all we have to work with. The last published Corps Regulatory Guidance Letter (RGL) was in 2008. Now would be a good time to issue a new one. Permit decisions need to be made. I am not sure a web post under “latest news” meets the legal requirements of an interpretation of law.

Keep an eye on the EPA news release site as well as the Corps regulatory pages. It is safe to assume that the new rules will be enforced outside of the 13 dissenting colonies. Sorry I meant states. Does anyone else see the irony here?

18 WOTUS State Lawsuits and Counting

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 15, Issue 28

Attorneys general from thirteen states filed a lawsuit on June 29, 2015 in response to EPA’s new rule defining the waters of the U.S. (WOTUS).  These include:  Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.  There suit asserts that the rule expands the scope of clean water regulations to lands that are dry much of the year and increases the federal government’s authority over land use.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota. South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, who is joined in the lawsuit, observed that 35 states have filed comments in opposing the rule and several other attorneys general are considering filing challenges.

In separate filings Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana asked a federal court in Houston to declare unconstitutional the Clean Water Act rule expanding the definition of “waters of the United States,” calling it an “impermissible expansion of federal power over the states.”

In their complaint, the states contend the new definition of WOTUS violates provisions of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the United States Constitution.

The states assert that the EPA’s rule inappropriately expands federal authority by placing a majority of water and land resources management in the hands of the federal government. “Congress and the courts have repeatedly affirmed the states have primary responsibility for the protection of intrastate waters and land management,” Jackley said in his release.

The states argue that the burdens created by the new EPA requirements on waters and lands are harmful to the states and will negatively affect agriculture economic development.

The lawsuit seeks an order declaring the rule is unlawful and prohibiting the agencies from implementing it. Without such an order, the rule takes effect within 60 days.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is also suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the behalf of Ohio and Michigan.  He is also focusing on the issue of the states right to regulate interstate commerce waters.

Mr. DeWine stated, “This rule clearly violates both the language and spirit of the Clean Water Act, which recognizes the rights of states to serve as trustees of their natural resources.”

In their complaint, the states contend the new definition of WOTUS violates provisions of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the United States Constitution.

The states assert that the EPA’s rule inappropriately broadens federal authority by placing a majority of water and land resources management in the hands of the federal government. “Congress and the courts have repeatedly affirmed the states have primary responsibility for the protection of intrastate waters and land management,” Jackley said in his release. These states argue that the new requirements created by the new EPA on waters and lands are harmful to the states and will negatively affect agriculture economic development.

These lawsuits seek an order declaring the rule is unlawful and prohibiting the agencies from implementing it. Without such an order, the rule takes effect on August 28, 2015.

In response to these suits, EPA issued the following statement:

“While we can’t comment on the lawsuit, it’s important to remember that EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized the Clean Water Rule because protection for many of the nation’s streams and wetlands had been confusing, complex, and time-consuming as the result of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. In order to clearly protect the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources, the agencies developed a rule that ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand.

“One in three people get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection before the Clean Water Rule. America’s cherished way of life depends on clean water, as healthy ecosystems provide wildlife habitat and places to fish, paddle, surf, and swim. Clean and reliable water is an economic driver, including for manufacturing, farming, tourism, recreation, and energy production. The health of our rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters are impacted by the streams and wetlands where they begin.

“In developing the rule, the agencies held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over 1 million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. EPA and the Army also utilized the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies which showed that small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream water bodies.”

2015 Waters of the US Final Rules

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 15, Issue 26

On Monday June 29, 2015 the final Waters of the US Rules were published in the Federal Register.  They become effective on August 28, 2015.  At that point they are the law of the land.

There has been much discussion about these new rules, their legitimacy and the need for them.  The major proponents argue that clean water is at risk without these rules.  The opponents argue that this rule is nothing more than a federal land grab.

The President through his agencies has argued that these rules are needed to clear up any confusion of what the federal government should and should not regulate.  The assumption is that an unregulated water is a dirty water.  Chief among the confused is the Supreme Court.   One of the major goals of this rule is to correct the SWANCC decision that limited federal jurisdiction over isolated waters.  However, with thousands of pages of documents used to develop this rule I doubt that this goal has been achieved.


Are these rules good or bad?  At this point that is a matter for the courts to decide.  There are some highly political bills being floated around Congress.  However, they lack the support need to overturn the rules.  The main issue is that they would face a likely Presidential veto should they pass both chambers.

One of the more amusing aspects of the opposition is to threaten to take away funding for the implementation of the rule.  At issue is how does one fund a definition?  The rule is now published so there is no longer any issue of disseminating the information.  Perhaps the Agencies are not allowed to talk about 80 FR 37053 – 37127.  Can they still mention waters of the United States?  If so, which definition?  If they use the old one, are they breaking their own rule?  If so, can a third party bring suit against the Agencies for not following a published rule?  Are we the regulated, still bound by the new published rule even if the Agencies can’t implement it?

Politics aside, (good luck with that) these rules are real and there are some very significant changes.  What is unfortunate is that the Agency personnel will most likely be denied any training on these new rules.  That is something Congress can withhold.  This could prove problematic when it comes time to argue for or against jurisdiction of a water.  Lack of training often results in poor decisions.

There is also one other date in the rule that is significant.  The date for Judicial Review is July 1, 2015.  I believe that corresponds with the date the Supreme Court goes into recess.  If you will recall as established by Marbury v. Madison (1803) the Supreme Court has the responsibility to decide if any law rule or regulation is constitutional.  July 1, 2015 is the date that that review would begin.  Is it a coincidence that this rule came out during the Court’s summer recess?  The Supremes will not be back until October.

We have posted a full version of the new rules on our website.  You can see them here or download the full document here.

Have a great week!

–    Marc

2015 Waters of the US Rule

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 15, Issue 22

On May 27, 2015 the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) released the official pre-publication of the new “waters of the US” rule. This rule will become effective 60 days from its publication in the Federal Register which is anticipated within a few days.

The new “waters” definition is a mere 9 pages long. The preamble and other related materials to be publish hover around 300 pages. The preamble provides further explanation of the rule in more technical detail.

In addition to the rule EPA and the COE have also published:

You have quite a bit of reading to do with well over 1,000 pages of reading material. To help you get started we have provided you with the basic “waters of the US” definition below. Over the next few weeks we will be diving into this and highlighting any salient points we think might help you get your head around this. We will also be offering a brand new webinar on July 9, 2015 on these new regulations.

To be clear, these regulations will become effective regardless of Congressional actions. The House Bill that passed and Senate Bill that’s still being kicked around would require the President’s approval to pass as an Act. He has clearly stated that he would veto any such legislation that would cross his desk. Consequently, there is nothing stopping this new regulation from being implemented in the next 60 days.

The new definition is as follows:

The term waters of the United States means:

(1) For purposes of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251 et. seq. and its implementing regulations, subject to the exclusions in paragraph (2) of this section, the term ‘‘waters of the United States’’ means:
(i) All waters which are currently used, were used in the past, or may be susceptible to use in interstate or foreign commerce, including all waters which are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide;
(ii) All interstate waters, including interstate wetlands;

(iii) The territorial seas;

(iv) All impoundments of waters otherwise identified as waters of the United States under this section;
(v) All tributaries, as defined in paragraph (3)(iii) of this section, of waters identified in paragraphs (1)(i) through (iii) of this section;

(vi) All waters adjacent to a water identified in paragraphs (1)(i) through (v) of this section, including wetlands, ponds, lakes, oxbows, impoundments, and similar waters;
(vii) All waters in paragraphs (A) through (E) of this paragraph where they are determined, on a case-specific basis, to have a significant nexus to a water identified in paragraphs (1)(i) through (iii) of this section. The waters identified in each of paragraphs
(A) through (E) of this paragraph are similarly situated and shall be combined, for purposes of a significant nexus analysis, in the watershed that drains to the nearest water identified in paragraphs (1)(i) through (iii) of this section. Waters identified in this paragraph shall not be combined with waters identified in paragraph (1)(vi) of this section when performing a significant nexus analysis. If waters identified in this paragraph are also an adjacent water under paragraph (1)(vi), they are an adjacent water and no case-specific significant nexus analysis is required.
(A) Prairie potholes. Prairie potholes are a complex of glacially formed wetlands, usually occurring in depressions that lack permanent natural outlets, located in the upper Midwest.
(B) Carolina bays and Delmarva bays. Carolina bays and Delmarva bays are ponded, depressional wetlands that occur along the Atlantic coastal plain.
(C) Pocosins. Pocosins are evergreen shrub and tree dominated wetlands found predominantly along the Central Atlantic coastal plain.
(D) Western vernal pools. Western vernal pools are seasonal wetlands located in parts of California and associated with topographic depression, soils with poor drainage, mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers.
(E) Texas coastal prairie wetlands. Texas coastal prairie wetlands are freshwater wetlands that occur as a mosaic of depressions, ridges, intermound flats, and mima mound wetlands located along the Texas Gulf Coast.
(viii) All waters located within the 100-year floodplain of a water identified in (1)(i) through (iii) of this section and all waters located within 4,000 feet of the high tide line or ordinary high water mark of a water identified in paragraphs (1)(i) through (v) of this section where they are determined on a case-specific basis to have a significant nexus to a water identified in paragraphs (1)(i) through (iii) of this section. For waters determined to have a significant nexus, the entire water is a water of the United States if a portion is located within the 100-year floodplain of a water identified in (1)(i) through (iii) of this section or within 4,000 feet of the high tide line or ordinary high water mark. Waters identified in this paragraph shall not be combined with waters identified in paragraph (1)(vi) of this section when performing a significant nexus analysis. If waters identified in this paragraph are also an adjacent water under paragraph (1)(vi), they are an adjacent water and no case-specific significant nexus analysis is required.

(2) The following are not “waters of the United States” even where they otherwise meet the terms of paragraphs (1)(iv) through (viii) of this section.
(i) Waste treatment systems, including treatment ponds or lagoons designed to meet the
requirements of the Clean Water Act.
(ii) Prior converted cropland. Notwithstanding the determination of an area’s status as prior converted cropland by any other Federal agency, for the purposes of the Clean Water Act, the final authority regarding Clean Water Act jurisdiction remains with EPA.
(iii) The following ditches:

(A) Ditches with ephemeral flow that are not a relocated tributary or excavated in a tributary.
(B) Ditches with intermittent flow that are not a relocated tributary, excavated in a tributary, or drain wetlands.
(C) Ditches that do not flow, either directly or through another water, into a water identified in paragraphs (1)(i) through (iii) of this section.
(iv) The following features:

(A) Artificially irrigated areas that would revert to dry land should application of water to that area cease;
(B) Artificial, constructed lakes and ponds created in dry land such as farm and stock watering ponds, irrigation ponds, settling basins, fields flooded for rice growing, log cleaning ponds, or cooling ponds;
(C) Artificial reflecting pools or swimming pools created in dry land;

(D) ) Small ornamental waters created in dry land;

(E) ) Water-filled depressions created in dry land incidental to mining or construction activity, including pits excavated for obtaining fill, sand, or gravel that fill with water;

(F) Erosional features, including gullies, rills, and other ephemeral features that do not meet the definition of tributary, non-wetland swales, and lawfully constructed grassed waterways; and
(G) ) Puddles.

(v) Groundwater, including groundwater drained through subsurface drainage systems.

(vi) Stormwater control features constructed to convey, treat, or store stormwater that are created in dry land.
(vii) Wastewater recycling structures constructed in dry land; detention and retention basins built for wastewater recycling; groundwater recharge basins; percolation ponds built for wastewater recycling; and water distributary structures built for wastewater recycling.

Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 15, Issue 20

On April 30, 2015 the US House of Representatives voted (241-181) to pass H.R. 1732 – Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015.  This bill is now scheduled to move onto the Senate for a vote.  If they have the votes in the Senate it will move onto the President who as indicated that it will be vetoed.  To be frank this bill is entirely political and largely too little too late.  However there are some key points in this Bill that are worth discussing.

At the heart of the bill is the call for the complete cessation of rulemaking with regards to the definition of “waters of the US.” The Bill is broken down into three parts and is merely 12 pages long.  This is quite a relief as the Corps and EPA page count on the new “waters of the US” rule exceeds over 1,000 pages of text amongst a number of supporting documents.


Section 1 is the title, “Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015.”  It is a bill to, “To preserve existing rights and responsibilities with respect to waters of the United States, and for other purposes.”

Section 2 calls for the withdrawal of the existing prosed rule.  “Not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the Army and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency shall withdraw the proposed rule described in the notice of proposed rule published in the Federal Register entitled ‘‘Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ Under the Clean Water Act’’ (79 Fed. Reg. 22188 (April 21, 2014)) and any final rule based on such proposed rule (including RIN 2040–AF30).”

The few news agencies that have even bothered to pick up this story seem to end at this section.  You can check out the cutting edge news from places like Greenhouse Management, Springfield News Leader, Real Estate Rama, and the Daily Signal.  This does not make the front page of the NY Times by any stretch.  However, the next section in the bill is extremely interesting and a bit disturbing and largely undiscussed.

Section 3 calls for the development of a new proposed rule by the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers.  It specifically requires that the Agencies consider public comments, review and economic analysis of the rules and incorporate the “scientific” analysis done by the EPA “Science” Advisory Board.

I use big quotes when describing this report as scientific.  No scientific study was conducted.  The report is merely a mediocre cut and paste job of selected papers written by others.

The Bill does add two new dimensions to the process that thus far have not happened.  It designates the States and local officials as stakeholders and requires that their input be considered.  Many States already have afforded “waters of the State” protection to non-Federal jurisdictional waters.  This new provision in the Bill alleviates that awkward aspect of the Clean Water Act that provides for the State to establish jurisdiction over waters (Section 404 (g) of the CWA).  The states would relinquish their role in establishing jurisdiction to the federal government by enjoining themselves in the new process as stakeholders.  This would be as opposed to the current situation wherein they  self govern.  So much for state’s rights.

The second and most significant point in the entire Bill is that the Agencies must consider the rulings of the Supreme Court when crafting the new rules.  To be even more frank, I cannot believe that such a provision would have to be added to a Bill.  If the government adopts rules that are inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s rulings it is by definition unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court has ruled that the US government does not have universal reach in what it claims to be “waters of the US.”  The 2001 SWANCC decision is at the heart of the EPA/Corps “waters of the US” rule.

In 2001, The Supreme Court confirmed that there are some waters that are beyond the reach of federal jurisdiction.  In the preamble of the proposed EPA/Corps rule, the Agencies state that it was always the position of Congress that all wetlands are jurisdictional.  However, in 2001 the Supreme Court ruled that this is not the case.  Is it appropriate for the Agencies to speak for Congress and defy the Supreme Court?

In the 2012 Sackett case, Supreme Court Justice Alito called out Congress to show some leadership and develop a reasonably clear rule defining “waters of the US.”   This latest Bill is a far cry from that.  It basically goes back to the same two Agencies and asks them to start the entire process again using the same data set and expecting a different result.  You may recall what Albert Einstein said about the definition of insanity.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

At the heart of this entire mess is a clear lack of leadership.  Our elected representatives need to step up and stop hiding behind the Agencies to solve this problem.  It is the job on Congress to establish the limit of Federal jurisdiction and not the Agencies.  The Executive branch administers the laws as passed by the Legislative branch.  In all fairness to the Executive branch, these “waters” rules are not clear and it is understandable why they would seek clarity.  However, designating a private landowner’s property as being “of the US” is perhaps something left to the democratic process rather than mandated by a Federal Agency.

The need for clear rules about what is subject to federal jurisdiction is needed.  Our current rules are confusing and seem to keep heading to court.  However, in my humble opinion these rules should come from the consent of the governed rather than being mandated by the government for our own good.  It was just a few years ago when our government suggested that pouring oil on a wetland was a good idea for the control of mosquitoes.    See if you can find a copy of the “Winged Scourge” which was a government produced public information movie.   It was the governed that stood against this practice and had it repealed.  In the end it is the wisdom of the people rather than the whims of politics that shape our laws.  Politics is about pleasing the masses to maintain power.  Wisdom is the recognition of truth.

Have a great week!

– Marc


EPA Public Comments Close on 11/14/14

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 45

Pubic comments on the proposed “Waters of the US” regulations close on November 14, 2014.  That is if they do not extend them once again.  I very much encourage you to submit your comments before then.  Many of our readers already have done so as evidenced by the over 250,000 comments submitted to date.

You can submit your comments online by going to:  http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880-0001

If you do comment, I would encourage you to post your comment tracking number in the comments section of this post.  My comment comment tracking number is 1jy-8fd2-fndk.  I have posted my full comment below.

My main concern is not that the definition needs to be revamped.  Rather, it is more focused on the way it is being done.  I am very concerned that the vast majority of water resource and wetland professionals have been left out of this discussion.  The regulations have been drafted by a very select group of mostly academics including at least one foreign national from Canada.  There are virtually no professionals involved.

I do not believe that this new definition is a matter of the “right thing to do.”  It is more a matter of is it the legal thing to do.  Does the President have the right to act alone and promulgate a regulation that expands the  reach of government into private landownership?  I believe that is a matter for our representative and elected officials in Congress to take up.

What do you think?

– Marc

Environmental Protection Agency

Water Docket

Mail Code 2822T

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20460

Re: Comments on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and U.S. Army Corps of

Engineers’ Proposed Rule to Define “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean

Water Act,

Docket ID No. EPA-HW-OW-2011-0880

To whom it may concern:

I would like to offer my comments on the proposed “Waters of the US” (2011-EPA-OW-0880) as advertised the Federal Register on April 21, 2014.

My chief comment relates to the overall stated premise of these new rules. The proposed rules are concerned with the perceived issue that the existing rules do not adequately represent the intent of Congress (ergo the people) when they passed the Clean Water Act in 1972. Currently, it is the Agencies’ stated belief that the intent of Congress was to claim jurisdictional authority over nearly every body of water in the United States including wetlands and non-wetlands.

In 2001 The Supreme Court ruled in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. Army Corps of Engineers (SWANCC) that Congress did not have unlimited authority to regulate all bodies of water. This was emphasized on isolated wetlands associated with the SWANCC site. These wetland areas lacked the required commerce connection to downstream waters. The Clean Water Act is limited in jurisdiction to only those waters that have a potential to affect interstate or international commerce. Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution limits the role of the Federal government in this matter to only those areas that could affect commerce.

The proposed rules seem to ignore the SWANCC ruling of the Supreme Court. In fact, it is the stated intention of this rule to reverse the Courts decision.

Under the Constitution, it is the role of the executive branch to administer the laws that are passed by Congress. It is acknowledged that many aspects of the Clean Water Act are purposely left to the discretion of the executive branch to interpret these laws by promulgating regulations such as this proposed rule. However, the Executive branch does not have the authority to expand the regulations beyond what the laws allows. Similarly, it is the role of the Judicial Branch to reign in Congress and the President should they pass a law that is beyond what the Constitution allows as was done with the SWANCC case.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report referenced in the proposed rule states that there is a minimal expansion of Federal jurisdiction over what is currently called “Waters of the US”. The report estimates that the expansion is only about 3%. While this may seem small on a relative scale it represents a land area roughly the size of the State of Arizona. This is in fact a rather large expansion of the Federal Governments reach into private land ownership. I am very concerned with the concept that the Executive Branch can expand the Federal Governments land holdings without the consent of the other two branches of government and the people.

Much of the proposed rule is based upon a misinterpretation of Supreme Court Justice Kennedy’s lone opinion in the 2006 John A. Rapanos, et ux., et al., Petitioners v. United States; June Carabell, et al., Petitioners v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, et al. case. The concept of significant nexus is central to his opinion. However the proposed rule offers no further insight into what constitutes “significant.”

The proposed rule does by way of reference to the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Connectivity Report delve into the concept of “nexus.” The SAB report ostensibly argues that all bodies of water are connected to all other bodies of water. At a very fundamental level this is true. However, the SAB report does not address the concept of which of these connections or nexus are “significant” as described by Justice Kennedy. If it is assume that all waters are connected and that there is no procedure to distinguish these connections as significant, then are we to assume that all connected water bodies are considered ““Waters of the US?”

It is clear in the opinions of the Supreme Court Justices that there is a difference between jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional waters. What is not clear, and in fact these proposed regulations make it much less clear, what exactly is a ““Waters of the US.”

Furthermore, I draw your attention to the 199 additional documents posted to the Regulation.gov docket folder in the last two weeks. They in fact have not been posted and the public is greeted with this 12 page notice:

Additional Supporting Materials for Docket EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880

EPA will be adding the following documents to the docket. Copyrighted material is publicly available only in hard copy. Publicly available docket materials are available electronically at http://www.regulations.gov or in hard copy at the Water Docket, EPA Docket Center, EPA West, Room 3334, 1301 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. The Public Reading Room is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding legal holidays. The telephone number for the Public Reading Room is 202–566–1744, and the telephone number for the Water Docket is 202–566–2426.

To what purpose do these documents serve? Why at this juncture are the Agencies concerned with copyright issues? It does beg the question of whether these copyright issue were addressed in the SAB report. Perhaps this should be disclosed.

How does this serve the public trust when the vast majority of these documents are only available by taking a trip to Washington, D.C. If the agencies feel that these documents are necessary to support their case for further regulations, then they should resolve the stated copyright concerns and publish them on the website in their entirety.   Otherwise these 199 documents should be removed from the docket.

I disagree that there is a regulatory need to update the definition of what is a waters of the United States. What is needed and was voiced by Justice Alito in the Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency case is for Congress to more narrowly define what is meant by a “Waters of the US” by amending the Clean Water Act.   This would afford the public through its elected representatives in Congress to express its concerns and support for what should be regulated as a “Waters of the US” and what should not. This current proposed regulation dictates to the public what is and is not jurisdictional without the consent of the governed. With over a quarter- million public comments already submitted, it is clear that this is a matter for the people to decide, not a single branch of the government.

Thank you for your consideration.


Marc Seelinger, PWS

Restored Wetland Site Homes Vulnerable Species

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 38

The amount of Chlidonias niger, commonly known as the black tern, found in New York has rapidly decreased since the 1960’s. The levels have lowered by such a significant degree that New York now considers the bird endangered within its state. The black tern has yet to reach this level of scarcity on a global basis, however, the species is being closely monitored as its global population also continues to decrease.

The black tern nests in shallow freshwater wetlands; the combination of open water and emergent vegetation provide ideal feeding and breeding grounds for the swallow-like bird. The marshes in New York, among other northern states, however, have become overrun with vegetation and, subsequently, are now unsuitable habitats for the black tern.

The 1960’s saw a number of dams constructed on the St. Lawrence River. These dams generate hydropower, maintain the water levels for commercial shipping on Lake Ontario, and prevent shoreline real estate from flooding. However, the dams also limit the annual water fluctuations within the marshes, allowing for dense vegetation to establish itself.

Records indicate that nesting sites in New York decreased by 57% between 1989 and 2004. Furthermore, the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas displayed 40% fewer black tern breeding areas in 2000-2005 than there were in 1980-1985. The largest explanation for such declines is the degradation of suitable breeding locations.

Seneca Meadows, Inc. owns the largest active landfill in New York, and in 2007 created a 600 acre wetland preserve to replace the 70 acres of wetlands that it destroyed in an expansion project. The current state standard for mitigation in New York is 3:1, however, Seneca Meadows opted for a much larger project given the potential impact the project could have due to its proximity with the Montezuma Wetlands Complex.

Applied Ecological Services (AES) were placed in charge of the project and restored 24 acres of grasslands, 157 acres of wooded wetlands by using invasive species management, and 419 acres of wetlands by altering hydrology and plantings. The once farm fields were transformed into robust wetlands and meadows.

Since the completion of the project, black terns have been spotted in the wetlands during surveying. It is expected that their appearance is a result of the proximity to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, an area within the Montezuma Wetlands Complex. The restored wetlands provide great opportunity for the black tern to forage, feed, and reproduce.

The wetland preserve is also home to several grassland species that have showed significant signs of decline due to many grasslands in New York being converted to agriculture or reverted to forests. A few of these animals include bobolinks, grasshopper sparrows, and savannah sparrows.

Furthermore, it is not only animals that are benefiting from the wetland preserve. There are also a variety of plants that are now flourishing within the wetlands. Sedges, rushes, arrowheads, and pickerelweed are all growing healthily within the preserve. The seeds of these plants have been harvested and used to restore similar habitats in the neighboring Montezuma Wetlands Complex.

The restoration of the wetland habitat in New York, therefore, is actively contributing to the preservation of both animal and plant species that are native to the land.

Fuel Benefits of Algae

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 37

For years Algae has been used as fertilizers, soil conditioners, and as a source of nutrition for animals. Derived from the first declension Latin word ‘alga’, algae literally means ‘seaweed’, and has generally not been used as much more than that. It captures runoff nutrients from soil deposits, and in turn becomes harvested as a fertilizer itself.

Algae also contains other useful molecules, such as lipids, and thereby has the potential to be used in order to make a number of profitable items, including high-energy fuel. However, the ability to extract these molecules is an arduous and expensive task, and, therefore, has yielded little reward. Until now, that is.

Algae Systems, a company based in Nevada, owns a pilot plant in Alabama that is used to generate behavioral information on algae. It is a smaller facility that is intended to identify a specific focus for algae study before larger plants are devoted to the cause. Subsequently, it claims to have found a way to produce diesel fuel from algae.

The process works by performing three separate tasks. First, municipal sewage, a treatment used to fertilize algae, must yield clean water. Second, a carbon-heavy residue must be used as fertilizer for the algae. Finally, valuable credits for advanced biofuels must be generated. If these tasks are completed in conjuncture with one another, then Algae Systems claims that a greater level of carbon will be extracted from the atmosphere then is added during the consumption of fuel.

The system works by heating the algae, along with the other solids found in the sewage, to temperatures in excess of 550 degrees Fahrenheit, at 3,000 pounds per square inch. This produces a liquid that appears similar to crude oil from a well. The chief executive of Algae Systems, Matt Atwood, refers to this as a “hydrothermal liquefaction” system.

Once produced, the liquid was studied by scientists at Auburn University, who, acting in line with the common procedure for oil refinement, added hydrogen to the liquid. This, subsequently, produced diesel fuel, which was later confirmed by Intertek, an independent laboratory, to meet all of the industries specifications.

The intriguing aspect of Algae Systems’ process is the means by which they separate the individual molecules from the algae. The high level thermal process they implement is a new system in algae treatment. It produces the potential to greatly reduce the amount of energy exerted on extracting molecules from algae.

Halil Berberoglu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, is also researching this area of algae treatment—separate from Algae Systems—and is excited by the prospect of such a “hydrothermal liquefaction” system. He described the older system as being “very energy-intensive,” whereby one must “dewater the algae, poke holes in the cell walls, and do all kinds of separation technologies.”

The high thermal process would not only allow the separation of lipids from the algae, but also the separation of proteins and carbohydrates, which may lead to further uses of algae.

Many obstacles remain in the advancement of such a process, for example the possible incorporation of heavy metals, nitrogen, and sulfur in crude oil compounds. Nonetheless, Algae System’s new perspective on algae treatment is both promising and refreshing.

Wetland Delineation Jobs in the Northeast

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 36

Periodically we get calls about wetland related jobs. One aspect of our school is that we try to help our students find work. We often post this information on our wetland career page.

This past week we were contacted by a large professional services recruitment company in the northeast. They are trying to hire 30-40 wetland delineators for a large pipeline right-of-way project that runs from Connecticut into the Marcellus region of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Normally we would just port this job on our webpage and direct our students to it. However given the size of the job and the need for immediate placement we thought that we would post it as this week’s news event. Personally, I cannot remember the last time I was asked if I knew 30-40 people looking for a wetland job.

This is the job description and requirements.

  • 3-10 years previous Wetland Delineation experience
  • Fully proficient in state and federal procedures (e.g. 3-Parameter: vegetation, soils and hydrology) for wetlands delineation
  • BS/MS degree in Environmental Science, Biology/Wetlands Science or soils science
  • Wetlands and Soils Science Certifications preferred (PWS, CWS, Soil Science Cert)
  • Ability to work long hours (with paid overtime) in a construction environment and some weekends is needed
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills helpful along with working as part of a larger team
  • Experience with GIS and GPS highly desirable
  • This position requires leadership skills with the ability to lead and direct field teams

If you are interested in getting more information for the recruitment company we have posted a contact form below. We will forward you information on and have the recruiter contact you directly for your resume etc. The hiring company is using the recruiter to conduct the initial screens of potential candidates. They will be able to answer all of your questions. We do not have any additional information about this project. Please do not send us any resumes as we are not part of the hiring process.

This project is hiring in phases and we have been told that having the basic wetland training on your resume will go a long way to help you land this job. We have a couple of basic training sessions coming up this fall. We still have room and would love to see you in class!

Have a great week!


Northeast Wetland Delineation Jobs Contact Form
Please provide your contact information below. This information will be sent to the hiring organization and they will contract you directly.