Nevada joins lawsuit challenging expanded federal authority over waters

CARSON CITY — Nevada and 12 other states took swift action Monday to challenge an Obama administration rule expanding the federal government’s authority over non-navigational waters.

The suit, joined by Attorney General Adam Laxalt with the blessing of Gov. Brian Sandoval, was filed in federal court in the southeastern district of North Dakota on the same day a final rule expanding the definition of “Waters in the United States” was published in the Federal Register.

Laxalt said the rule adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers usurps states’ rights over state land and water resources.

Laxalt said the rule “drastically increases” the control of those agencies beyond the Clean Water Act “by imposing burdensome requirements on public and private entities.”

“This is the latest power grab by this presidential administration to expand federal oversight into areas that are better managed by state and local governments,” Laxalt said in a statement.

The Clean Water Act gives the federal agencies regulatory authority to control discharges into navigable or interstate waters. The states argue that the new rule expands that authority to other waters, including ponds, lakes and “ephemeral streams and channels that are usually dry.”

“When they started they were just talking about the main navigational waters,” said state Sen. James Settelmeyer, a Douglas County rancher and Republican co-majority whip. “Now they’re talking about everything.”

“There are places in Douglas County that I’ve never seen underwater my entire life,” Settelmeyer said. Under the federal rules, he said, those areas could still fall under federal regulation.

“Water could drain off that land into a river and therefore they have the right to regulate that property,” Settelmeyer said.

Sandoval in a statement said Nevadans “have worked together for generations to conserve, protect and maintain our precious natural resources.”

He said state agencies, including the Nevada Department of Conservation and National Resources, Nevada Department of Agriculture and the Colorado River Commission submitted significant comments when the rule was proposed and comments were solicited.

“Upon release of the final rule, it was evident that Nevada’s comments were not addressed by the federal agencies. Therefore, I authorized the Nevada attorney general to join in this lawsuit opposing the final rule,” the governor said.

Besides North Dakota and Nevada, other plaintiffs include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and New Mexico’s Environment Department and state engineer.

Similar challenges were filed in other courts.

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