BISMARCK – A judicial panel dealt another setback Tuesday to a federal water rule that has been temporarily blocked from taking effect nationwide.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized the “Waters of the United States” rule in May, but a lawsuit filed by 13 states led by North Dakota was successful in obtaining a preliminary injunction in August to block the rule’s implementation in those states. Last week, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order blocking the rule nationwide.

The EPA and corps had unsuccessfully requested that North Dakota’s lawsuit be put on hold while a judicial panel considered consolidating it with other lawsuits from around the country challenging the rule.  The lawsuits seek to clarify which waters are covered by the federal Clean Water Act.

On Tuesday, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation issued a unanimous order denying the agencies’ request to transfer and centralize the district court cases to the District of Columbia, according to a news release from North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

North Dakota had opposed the request, arguing that its case was the only one with a preliminary injunction and that the federal agencies hadn’t met their burden to justify the transfer. A hearing was held Oct. 1 in New York City.  

“We have a long way still to go but this is the state’s third consecutive victory on the route. We will continue to press the matter until the WOTUS rule is invalidated,” Stenehjem said.

In its order, the judicial panel stated that “centralization will not serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses or further the just and efficient conduct of this litigation.”

As a result, each of the 14 cases filed in federal district courts across the country will proceed independently, Stenehjem said.