Friday, October 16, 2015

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

~Most of the Water News - None of the Spin~

Two Court Decisions Set Stage for Future WOTUS Court Action, Increase Legal Uncertainty
On October 9, a split 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel in Cincinnati ruled (2 to 1) in favor of a states' appeal requesting that the Waters of the United States ("WOTUS" or "Clean Water") rule be stayed from going into effect nationwide (link to the ruling here). The 6th Circuit decision came in a set of cases consolidated into one multi-district, multi-circuit case.

As a result of the decision, the rule is no longer in effect anywhere in the U.S. The stay in the rule's implementation will last until the court determines if the Clean Water Act gives it authority over the rule or if the states' appeal must be remanded to a district court (under the Clean Water Act, certain challenges can go directly to an appeals court, bypassing district courts; however, that language for judicial review in appeals courts is very limited). If the 6th Circuit panel decides that they do not have jurisdiction over the matter, they could concurrently decide that the stay no longer applies.  A decision may be forthcoming within a month. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering the same jurisdictional issue, and should the decisions of the 6th and 11th circuits differ, jurisdiction could then be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 6th Circuit ruling touched upon arguments for and against the rule only briefly, with two of the three panel judges finding that there was a "substantial possibility" that the plaintiffs would eventually win on the merits of their claims. In response to the 6th Circuit ruling, an EPA statement said, "The court acknowledges that clarification of the Clean Water Act is needed," and "we look forward to litigating the merits of the Clean Water rule."

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, October 13, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled against a Department of Justice request that nine separate U.S. district court cases challenging the rule (in seven separate courts) be consolidated into one case and transferred to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (link to the ruling here).

Next Week in Congress
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has gone through the procedural motions of adding separate or packaged fiscal year 2016 spending bills to the Senate calendar, setting up possible votes over the next several weeks. The new spending packages combine Senate Appropriation Committee appropriation measures that earlier this year became bogged down in the larger budget impasse. The energy and water, and interior and environment appropriations bills are included in several of the packages. However don't expect the votes on the bills to be anything but window dressing, with the GOP looking to put Democrats "on the record" as they vote down or otherwise block the bills. In the meantime, Democratic and Republican leaders will continue their efforts to hammer out a comprehensive budget agreement before the current spending authority expires on December 11. Sen. McConnell is reported to be pushing for policy riders to be included in whatever budget deal emerges from the negotiations, including a rider dealing with the Waters of the United States rule, but that insistence, like the spending bill votes, is more style than substance.

Next Tuesday, the U.S. Congress returns from its Columbus Day week's recess, and there are several House and Senate committee activities currently scheduled for the week that relate to Mississippi River Basin water resources.  You can link to a list of those meetings and hearings here (updated as needed).

Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
Waters of the United States Rule
Other Water Quality News
  • Continued presence of the Ohio River harmful algal bloom forces cancellation of this year's Great Ohio River Swim (Greater Cincinnati)
  • New study finds above-ground spills, not drilling, are responsible for water contamination from fracking
  • Iowa DNR: Spilled hog manure reaches Skunk River
  • U.S. District Court for Western District of Pennsylvania invalidates local government's efforts to block oil and gas wastewater disposal

Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • As the Southwest dries, water could transform the Rust Belt into the "Blue Belt"
  • Justice Department will appeal Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet damages ruling against Army Corps of Engineers
  • Stakeholder reactions to new Republican bill to overhaul Wisconsin’s high-capacity well regulations are lukewarm
  • Dredging continues in phase two of project to reintroduce Mississippi River flows to Bayou Lafourche (Louisiana)
  • Report Card gives Mississippi River Basin a D+ on condition of infrastructure such as locks and dams (see additional, related link below under "Other News")
Agriculture -
Click to enlarge
  • Hoosier Environmental Council challenges the constitutionality of Indiana's right-to-farm laws
  • Study: U.S. crop diversity loss could have far-reaching ecosystem services and food system sustainability consequences
  • "Putting down the plow in Oklahoma" - the growing trend toward less farmland tillage
  • USDA provides $30 million in Farm Bill conservation grants to protect wetlands in Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska and Tennessee
Climate and Weather -
  • US drought update: dryness expands across portions of the Corn Belt and into western Kentucky; drought and abnormal dryness deepens in most of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi
  • The Earth just had its warmest September on record — by a long shot
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Minnesota DNR initiates pilot projects to treat small infestations of zebra mussels on Minnesota lakes
  • South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard pushes for changes to Endangered Species Act
  • Study: Bakken oil shale development displacing scores of sensitive grassland birds from northern North Dakota; abstract: and full study publication:
  • How ecotourists actually make things worse for wildlife
In the Cities -
  • As green as city officials like to call Louisville, studies continue to show it ranks poorly in a number of environmental indicators  (study results here: - Minneapolis 7th, St. Louis 34th, New Orleans 66th, Baton Rouge last)
  • Study: Sea level rise will "swallow" New Orleans  eventually, no matter what is done to limit climate change; stories: and (study abstract:
  • River Town program advising smaller municipalities with fewer resources how to revitalize their waterfronts sees success along Monongahela River's Fredericktown
  • Decatur, Illinois' second phase of storm water fee starts next month
In the States-
  • Pennsylvania House Bill 965 would make it easier for legislature to block executive agencies' regulations, statements of policy (Pennsylvania Environmental Council opposes bill
  • Kansas Gov. Brownback not looking at additional spending cuts or new taxes to balance budget
  • Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead prepares to cut millions of dollars from state's budget as energy revenues lag
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Louisiana Indian tribe files lawsuit over 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill damages to tribal cultural, natural resources
Forestry -
  • Judge approves West Virginia businessman's plan to buy some Patriot Coal assets, launch reforestation venture with carbon credits
  • Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council announces members to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council Performance Review Board
Resource Development -
YouTube link to the left
  • Top industry official says a "suite" of proposed federal regulations is threatening North Dakota's oil production, not slumping prices
  • North Dakota Department of Health notified of 800-barrel (25,000 gallon) brine spill in McKenzie County at site operated by Hillstone Environmental Partners - no surface water impact reported (related:  the state fines for the Hillstone Environmental Partners spill will likely be negligible
  • As voters are asked for a fifth time whether to ban fracking locally, their Ohio mayor says residents are "tired of hearing about the issue"
  • Gillette, Wyoming: "Coal. Guns. Freedom" - A week in the life of the town that keeps your lights on
Federal Budget (You can follow the status of all of the fiscal year 2016 appropriation bills on this web page) -
Events - Information on all past and future events listed here each week can be viewed in the on-line calendar, located above and to the right (and here as a stand-alone calendar)
  • EPA and the Water Environment Federation to host series of three, free webcasts focused on biomimicry and biophillic design; October 21, November 5, 18
  • USEPA Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Committee meeting;  October 22, Broomfield, Colorado, 9 AM-5 PM MT (open to public)
  • Interior Department Invasive Species Advisory Committee public meeting;  October 28-30, Beltsville, MD
  • Capitol Hill briefing: What Are Farmers Doing to Address Water Quality, November 2; 2-3:30 pm, Senate Visitor's Center
e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
  • NW PAssages E-Zine ~ October 2015; exploring northwest Pennsylvania's greenways
Other news-
  • Senate Republicans think they might be able to lift oil export ban if it's paired with Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorization
  • Obama administration directs agencies to factor in value of ecosystem services into planning and decision-making
  • America’s Watershed Initiative releases new Report Card for the 31-state Mississippi River Watershed (related news story below)
  • Wall Street Journal: "Mississippi River Watershed Given a D+" "Grade from nonprofit coalition cites water supply, pollution, infrastructure"
  • Job Opportunity:  Natural Resources Biologist – Iowa DNR Fisheries Bureau, Muscatine, IA
  • Parties come together to celebrate canoes and volunteerism on the Mississippi River
  • Great River Greening seeks to fill Director of Conservation Programs position (Saint Paul, MN)
  • Minnesota DNR proposes lead shot ban for state wildlife management areas
  • Creighton University's September rural main street index signifies that the U.S. farm/rural economy continues to contract
Politics and People-
  • Congressional Management Foundation report: Social media posts from constituents grab Congress's attention
  • Minnesota businessman Stewart Mills (R) announces a second challenge to 8th District Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan
  • Environmental groups weigh in on a Pennsylvania Supreme Court race that they say has long term environmental implications
Your Moment of Zen -
"A River's Course" - courtesy Carol Hays, Executive Director, Prairie Rivers Network

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