N.D. judge takes lead role in fight over #CleanWaterRules

From EENews.net (Jeremy P. Jacobs and Annie Snider):

With the stroke of his pen, Ralph Erickson catapulted himself to the center of a decades-long politically charged battle over the country’s foremost water law.

The little-known North Dakota federal district judge blocked the Obama administration’s contentious Waters of the U.S. rule on Aug. 28, hours before it was scheduled to go into effect.

A George W. Bush appointee, Erickson sided with the challengers’ arguments, ruling U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers overstepped their authority under the Clean Water Act.

Declaring the agencies had developed the rule through a process that was “inexplicable, arbitrary and devoid of a reasoned process,” he granted the request of 13 states for a preliminary injunction, halting the rule while the lawsuit plays out.

The rule’s foes sought injunctions in lawsuits filed across the country, but Erickson was the only federal district judge to grant one — though he later limited it to the 13 states in the case before him.

In the months since, Erickson’s decision has become ammunition for opponents of the water rule, one of the Obama administration’s most significant environmental regulations.

They have wielded it in the legal arena, where challengers used it to persuade a federal appeals court to extend the stay nationwide. On the political front, Erickson’s words have been quoted in lobbying letters, in tweets and on the floor of the Senate…

A federal judicial panel last month declined to consolidate more than a dozen district court challenges to the rule, allowing them to move forward on parallel tracks.

The decision could give Erickson — who has already said that challengers’ arguments have “a substantial likelihood of success” — the first crack at ruling on whether the regulation is legal.

The Department of Justice has been trying to wrest the case from Erickson’s courtroom. DOJ contends that all the litigation belongs in a federal appeals court, not district court — a question that is pending before an appellate court in Cincinnati.

But the challengers are already pressing Erickson to move ahead with his case now, contending that he has already decided that authority rests with him. And yesterday, Erickson’s court agreed to move forward with the case quickly.

While any opinion is likely to be appealed, Erickson’s moves could set the stage for what is likely to be years of legal battles.

It’s a high-stakes role for a North Dakota judge who is well-respected locally as a no-nonsense, hardworking and at times talkative judge with limited experience on environmental and administrative law cases.

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