On Tuesday, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled that the Water of the United States (WOTUS) rule, released during the former President Barack Obama administration, violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In his ruling, Judge George C. Hanks Jr. said the final rule differed so substantively from the proposed rule that stakeholders were not given the opportunity to comment on the rule’s definition of “adjacent waters.” Also, that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated the APA by releasing the technical basis for the proposed rule after the public notice and comment period had closed.

Judge Hanks said, “the APA does not envision requiring interested parties to parse through vague references like tea leaves to discern an agency’s regulatory intent regarding such significant changes to a final rule.”

The court remanded the 2015 rule to the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers while maintaining the preliminary injunction against the rule that it first imposed in 2018.