Saturday, October 31, 2015 - A motion to transfer lawsuits against the Army Corps of Engineers and The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) related to the federal Clean Water Rule were denied by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) on October 13. The ruling came after the two government agencies attempted to have lawsuits related to defining the waters protected under the Clean Water Rule consolidated in the District of the District of Columbia Federal Court. Following heavy questioning during the JPML hearing session on October 1, the panel ruled against the agencies in a move that didn‘t surprise many following their MDL request.
The lawsuits brought against the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers addressed the federal Clean Water Rule and which U.S. waters would be covered by its protections. The two agencies were attempting to consolidate the lawsuits filed against it after they finally defined the waterways that would or would not be protected under the Clean Water Act. The agencies had been attempting to define its phrasing of "waters of the United States" that it included in the Clean Water Act, which they had done in the Clean Water Rule.
The Clean Water Act intends to protect and create standards for federally protected waterways around the country. The definitions that had been given in the Clean Water Rule included the specifications for floodplains, riparian areas and tributaries among other waterways that requires additional definition. The two federal agencies had hoped to combine the lawsuits pending against them to coordinate efforts to deal with the variety of claims and challenges they were fielding related to the Clean Water Rule. The actions pending against the federal agencies had come from around the country and aimed to amend and shrink the definitions that expanded federal governance over American waters.
Many states with large amounts of agricultural lands have bristled at the accords that the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are seeking, claiming that it expands the federal government‘s power too far into their affairs. The challenges came from a number of states, including Texas, West Virginia, Washington, and a number of other that took issue with the waterways included in the Clean Water Rule definition offered by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. A total of seven federal districts were included in the motion to transfer, as well as an additional five actions outside of the official transfer request.
The JPML decided to deny the transfer request after determining that the consolidation of the lawsuits would not simplify the litigative process for any of the parties involved in the Clean Water Rule lawsuits. The panel claimed that only a small amount of discovery and pretrial proceeding will be necessary to resolve the conflicts present in the lawsuits mentioned in the motion to transfer, and that consolidation would only complicate matters that have already received an array of decisions from courts around the country. Combining these cases and previous decision would not improve the level of convenience in these suits.