Wednesday, January 20, 2016

New Brief Article: What Does WOTUS Mean for the Timber Industry and Forest Landowners?

My friends at the Southeastern Wood Producers Association recently published an article I wrote for them in their quarterly magazine, Out of the Woods: What Does WOTUS Mean for the Timber Industry. I've written several times about this issue and the Waters of the United States Rule. The problem comes down to the extent of the federal government's reach over water bodies and wetlands, especially those that have nothing to do with navigation or interstate commerce. The article is excerpted below.
On August 28, 2015, a new rule promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took effect in Florida. The rule, called WOTUS, seeks to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States,” which is critical to those agencies’ regulatory reach under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA prohibits the discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States without a permit. Violators are subject to penalties of thousands of dollars per day (even if unintentional) or costly lawsuits by neighbors or environmentalists.
Many of the waters subject to federal jurisdiction are easy to identify: navigable water bodies, rivers, streams, creeks, impoundments of those waters, and wetlands directly adjoining any of those waters. Beyond those, though, what qualifies has been unclear for decades. A series of U.S. Supreme Court cases created confusion because the justices could not agree on just how far federal agencies could reach. This meant that, for many small waters and wetlands, the Corps had to perform a site-specific jurisdictional determination. While burdensome to the agencies, this analysis at least forced them to use science to determine whether more-isolated waters and wetlands had a “significant nexus” with a water that was subject to federal jurisdiction.
Now, the federal agencies have adopted WOTUS, a rule that will mean fewer case-by-case analyses. While this may make the process more “efficient” for the agencies, that comes at the expense of more areas automatically being deemed as falling under federal jurisdiction simply because the agency says so, rather than because of any scientific connection to another water.
Thus, WOTUS now designates all tributaries and waters and wetlands “adjacent” to or “neighboring” other jurisdictional waters as under federal jurisdiction. In some cases, waters and wetlands 1,500 feet away from another water are considered “neighboring,” even if there is no hydrologic connection. Even ephemeral drains and ditches that water only flows in after a rain are now almost always under federal jurisdiction.
These changes may not seem important at first, since the timber industry has traditionally been excluded from many permitting requirements. For example, CWA permits are not required to manage the runoff from common forestry practices, such as site preparation, thinning, control burns, and road construction, as long as they are undertaken in accordance with standard industry practice. Even so, WOTUS is important to watch because it will expand the need for obtaining CWA permits for some commonplace practices, such as for application of herbicide and fertilizers in and near wetlands and for construction of some roadside ditches near wetlands. Prudent professionals will need to think twice about past common knowledge.
WOTUS has provoked fierce opposition. Legislation to block it is progressing, but it would likely face a presidential veto. At least half the states are challenging WOTUS in court. A federal judge has temporarily stopped the rule’s implementation, but it is not clear whether this will last. Therefore, the ultimate fate of WOTUS remains unclear. For now, the timber industry should be actively engaging elected officials to encourage them to take action.
As I mentioned last week in a post about another article I wrote on this topic, this issue is moving fast and there are a few updates since I wrote the article:
I'll have a more comprehensive update on the status of the litigation in the coming week.

Monday, January 11, 2016

New Brief Article: How Does WOTUS Affect Your Clients' Wetlands?

Many thanks to the Hillsborough County Bar Association, which published an article I wrote for their Lawyer magazine entitled How Does WOTUS Affect Your Clients' WetlandsReaders of my blog will be familiar with my earlier posts on the Waters of the United States Rule. The question this new rule raises is how far does the federal government's power reach over water bodies and wetlands, especially those that have nothing to do with navigation or interstate commerce? The article is excerpted below.
On August 28, 2015, a new rule promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took effect in Florida. 80 Fed. Reg. 37054 (June 29, 2015). The rule, called WOTUS, seeks to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States,” which is critical to those agencies’ regulatory jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The CWA prohibits the discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States without a permit. The outer boundaries of what qualifies as a jurisdiction water have been unclear for decades. A series of U.S. Supreme Court cases have indicated that, while the agencies’ jurisdiction is broad, it does not extend to the outer reaches of the Commerce Clause. See Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006); Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook Cnty. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs, 531 U.S. 159 (2001); Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc. v. United States, 474 U.S. 121 (1985).

One of these cases, Rapanos, created a great deal of confusion because the plurality, a concurrence by Justice Kennedy, and the dissent all developed different jurisdictional tests. The agencies have focused on Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test. Under it, if a water has some appreciable impact on a traditionally-regulated water under the CWA (like a navigable water), then that water is also jurisdictional. This has meant that many small waters and most wetlands have been subject to the “significant nexus” analysis on a case-by-case basis. This led to a great deal of informal agency guidance, including wetland delineation manuals that attempted to use scientific methods to aid decision making.

According to EPA and the Corps, WOTUS increases regulatory certainty by reconciling past practices, science, and case law. It does so by expanding the scope of waters and wetlands that are categorically classified as jurisdictional, rather than subject to a case-by-case review. Tributaries and waters and wetlands “adjacent” to or “neighboring” jurisdictional waters are now categorically jurisdictional. In some cases, waters and wetlands 1,500 feet from a jurisdictional water are considered “neighboring,” even if there is no hydrologic connection. See 33 CFR § 328.3(c)(2). WOTUS also codifies some exclusions that are are based on agency practice, including for minor ditches and small artificial ponds. See 33 CFR § 328.3(b).

WOTUS has provoked fierce opposition. Legislation to block it is progressing, but it would likely face a presidential veto. At least ten federal law suits are challenging the rule (with at least half the states as plaintiffs), alleging that WOTUS expands federal jurisdiction beyond the CWA’s limits. A federal judge recently enjoined the rule’s implementation in thirteen states, but this did not include Florida. Therefore, while the ultimate fate of WOTUS remains unclear, what is certain is that Florida landowners will be required to comply with it in the short term. What is also certain that this new rule will result in more Florida wetlands being categorically defined as jurisdictional rather than being subject to case-by-case analysis.
I'll give a full update post on this topic soon, but since just since my article was published in late 2015:

 Stay tuned.This issue isn't going away anytime soon.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Development Permit Extension Deadline Approaching

I previously wrote about how the extensions to some development permits that were made available by Governor Scott's executive orders declaring states of emergency due to severe flooding and a tropical storm. Section 252.363, Florida Statutes, provides for deadlines for landowners and holders of these development permits who are seeking to take advantage of these extensions. While one deadline applicable to only a few counties has already passed, the deadline for the Governor's statewide emergency declaration is January 25, 2016. Landowners with eligible development permits should act quickly.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Why Exactions Law Should Bring Property Rights Advocates Cheer in the New Year

When even progressive scholars throw their hands up in the air over the strength of an area of property rights law, you know it's time for those of us who believe in strong property rights to take note. Professor Timothy Mulvaney at Texas A&M has done just that in his latest paper, forthcoming in the Harvard Environmental Law Review, "Legislative Exactions and Progressive Property." 

In it, Prof. Mulvaney covers the debate of whether the stringent judicial review of exactions provided to administrative exactions also applies to legislative exactions. The debate here is over what the government can demand from a landowner before approving a discretionary permit. In three important cases - Nollan, Dolan, and Koontz - the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the government must show that the demand is related to the harms that will be caused by the landowner's activities and that the demand is roughly proportionate to the ills the government seeks to remedy. 

The Supreme Court has explained that these rules apply no matter whether the government ultimately approves or denies a permit application and no matter whether the government demands money, road building, or anything else. Compared to other areas of property rights law, the Supreme Court has been remarkably clear that the landowners must be protected from such "unconstitutional conditions" by government. Governments, though, dislike such strict rules, and some have argued that these rules only apply to "administrative" demands, such as those by an executive or bureaucrat, and not to "legislative" demands, such as an ordinance that makes demands from everyone. As others have argued better than I can, the Takings Clause  and the Due Process Clauses of the Constitution do not distinguish between the branches of government in protecting landowners. 

In his article, Prof. Mulvaney essentially asks: should proponents of "progressive property" (read: fans of weak personal property rights) support making such a distinction for its practical consequences? He concludes:
Scholarly debate continues on the question of whether the heightened scrutiny of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Nollan and Dolan should be applicable in takings cases involving exactions that result from generally applicable legislation. Proponents of progressive conceptions of property have strong first-order reasons to support immunizing legislative exactions from such heightened scrutiny, reasons that are grounded in the checks and balances of democratic government, the likelihood of reciprocal advantages stemming from legislation, and an aversion to judicial usurpation of the legislative process. However, this Article raises the possibility that distinguishing between legislative and administrative exactions could produce two secondary effects that ultimately prove detrimental to progressive property’s aims. 
First, pressing the idea that administrative exactions are significantly more likely to abuse property owners than legislative exactions necessarily risks marginalizing case-by-case administration across the board, which could lead courts to incorporate the heightened scrutiny of Nollan and Dolan in takings cases involving administrative acts unrelated to exactions. Second, formally recognizing the legislative-administrative distinction could prompt governmental entities to shy away from administrative actions in favor of broad, unbending legislative measures to avoid heightened scrutiny, and deserting case-by-case administration can come with weighty social costs, given that it is administration that at least in certain instances can better respond to varied and unpredictable development impacts and invariably focuses attention on the affected parties’ human stories. 
It follows that both remaining options in the wake of Nollan, Dolan, and Koontz—subjecting legislative exactions to either a deferential level of takings scrutiny or the heightened standard to which administrative exactions currently are subject—pose significant complications for proponents of progressive conceptions of property. In the end, then, perhaps progressive property scholars might concentrate more readily on evaluating and advocating for other potential boundary principles in exaction takings law, or, even more dramatically, reinvigorate the long dormant and admittedly uphill battle to reverse Nollan and Dolan in their entirety.
That is, Constitutional questions aside, even proponents of weak personal property rights should be wary of making a distinction between administrative and legislative exactions. Why? Exactly because the Supreme Court has extended such clear, strong protections to administrative exactions. Those proponents would do better to focus their attention elsewhere, says Prof. Mulvaney.

Take heart, fans of private property rights: progress is being made. And that should bring you cheer in this New Year.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hillsborough County Developing Mobility Fee to Replace Concurrency and Impact Fee

As I wrote about with my colleagues recently, Hillsborough County is developing a mobility fee:
These fees are levied on development to pay for the development's impacts on offsite public facilities. While more familiar mechanisms like impact fees and concurrency focus on roads, mobility fees are intended to pay for even more forms of transportation infrastructure, including that used by vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, and transit users. Pasco County was the first county in the state to adopt a mobility fee in 2011, and a handful of other local governments have followed suit, including the City of Jacksonville and Osceola County.
These fees come while Hillsborough County is focused on a number of transportation funding mechanisms, including Go Hillsborough, a half-cent sales tax that would be earmarked for transportation.

While staff has reported that this fee will replace both concurrency and the impact fee, the mobility fee is currently proposed at a rate that will be three to ten times higher than today's impact fee. New details are emerged recently through a "Terms Sheet" that outlines the key terms of a future mobility fee ordinance. Another recent update explained that the mobility fee will likely even affect ongoing projects that might initially seem to be "vested" against the new fees:
The Term Sheet, as drafted, subjects Proportionate Share Agreements approved after January 1, 2016 to the mobility fee. The Term Sheet also proposes new limitations for the amendment of both existing Development Agreements as well as Development of Regional Impact (DRI) Agreements. Consequently, it is unclear how these agreements will be processed in the near and long term. 
Obtaining extensions of agreements for ongoing projects may become difficult in the future. As drafted, the Term Sheet does not allow agreements to be extended, and mobility fees must be paid for all future development after the current expiration date.
Many questions remain, including how to treat the millions in credits that developers have received from projects where the offsite transportation improvements that they constructed cost more than the impact fees that the developers would otherwise have to pay. More details will emerge over the next 6-8 weeks, with a workshop scheduled to for staff to brief the Board of County Commissioners in February.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Are Florida's Rural Landowners Bearing Too Much of the Burden of Protected Species?

This week's Business Observer had an opinion piece that's worth a look. In it, Adrian Moore argues that Florida's rural landowners are bearing an unfair burden in managing Florida's listed and endangered species. He says, "[i]t is safe to say that virtually every farm of any kind in the region will be in the watershed of at least one new endangered species. Everyday farming activities that create sediments or runoff, or use fertilizers or pesticides, impact a watershed to some extent and thus all may come under restrictions to protect habitat."

Mr. Moore argues that the management techniques for these species are becoming more restrictive in Florida, as opposed to some other states, such as Texas. He writes:
The Texas approach combines:

- A government task force of state and local agencies that includes both environmental and economic goals to balance protection of species with economic costs.

- Integration of high-quality scientific research on species, habitat and the costs and effectiveness of protection options. - Conservation plans based on voluntary, market-based approaches similar to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program in which state and local agencies share property owners’ cost of protecting habitat for endangered species and provide technical assistance.

- Confidentiality for landowners to protect them from punitive federal regulations if they comply with an approved conservation plan.
Mr. Moore's approach is worth considering. Landowners should take a look at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission's Imperiled Species Management Plan. The October 2015 draft plan is a good place to start in understanding what protected species may be on a property and how that species is being managed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Opportunity Lost? Can Condemnation Blight be a Taking or a Substantive Due Process Violation?

Take note, property rights mavens: a takings claim is a separate and distinct claim from a substantive due process claim, and it's a mistake to treat them as coextensive. Fresh out of the Third District Court of Appeals is Teitelbaum v. South Florida Water Management District, No. 3D14-963 (Sep. 30, 2015), which focuses on condemnation blight and its relationship to inverse condemnation claims, but which may be more useful for its teachings on framing a property rights case.

A large group of plaintiffs sued the District for depressing the value of their properties that were long zoned as agriculture in order to pursue environmental goals related to the nearby Everglades. The District had bought up as much land as it could in the area, and when it could not acquire their properties, it passed a condemnation resolution. It did not make any attempts to actually acquire the properties, though. Slip Op. at 4. The plaintiffs further alleged that the District had prevented Miami-Dade County from rezoning the properties and that the District's acquisition of property in the area in a "checkerboard" fashion prevented the plaintiffs from developing their properties. Slip Op. at 5.

Because there was no physical taking and the plaintiffs had not applied for a development permit to test what could be permitted, the plaintiffs were stuck asserting a novel claim:
Likely recognizing that the Water District’s conduct would not constitute a taking under the traditional takings formulations, the Plaintiffs have not argued their claims under any ... well-established standards. Rather, the Plaintiffs urge this Court to recognize a new cause of action and adopt a new category of governmental activity that will result in a per se taking: condemnation blight. Under the Plaintiffs’ proposed formulation for a condemnation blight claim, a constitutional taking would occur when: (1) the government makes an official, publicly-announced declaration of its intent to condemn the property that goes beyond mere planning; (2) the government engages in some postannouncement unreasonable conduct, such as protracted delay in actual condemnation proceedings or interference with the property owner’s rights; and (3) the property suffers impairment of value or the property owner’s use and enjoyment of the property is disrupted. We decline to adopt this proposed standard as a per se taking.
Slip Op. at 10.

The Court's opinion isn't terribly surprising. In Florida, condemnation blight is about value: it precludes the government from depressing the value of a property before it subjects it to a de jure or de facto taking by calculating the property's value before it was depressed.Earlier this year, the court had held that condemnation blight does not itself give rise to a taking, although condemnation blight may be considered when the property is valued for the government's liability. On rehearing, the court withdrew that opinion and reissued one that held the same thing, with some further embellishment, explaining.

The interesting part about the opinion is in the court addressing the plaintiffs' focus on the District's "unreasonable" conduct rather than on the effect on their property." The court held that this "perspective confuses the aim of the Takings Clause, as the cases uniformly analyze the effect of the governmental actions and regulations on the property to determine whether they are so onerous as to constitute an ouster." Slip Op. 11.

Attentive readers of this blog might think this sounds more like a Substantive Due Process argument, since it focuses on the government's means rather than on its ends. And you would be right. However, the court declined to take that issue up on rehearing, deeming it to have been abandoned:
One of the appellants’ primary arguments in their motion for rehearing is that this Court should have analyzed their Due Process Clause claims as a distinct cause of action separate and apart from their Takings Clause claims under the authority of Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority v. A.G.W.S. Corp., 640 So. 2d 54, 57-58 (Fla. 1994). While there is an interplay between these two constitutional clauses and many takings claims are analyzed coextensively with due process claims, the appellants are correct that these claims can be pled as distinct causes of action when the allegations involve governmental actions or regulations on private property. Id. The alleged unreasonableness of the Water District’s actions, while irrelevant for a takings analysis, would certainly have been germane to the Plaintiffs’ substantive due process claim, and their argument would likely require further consideration had it been raised prior to the Plaintiffs’ motion for rehearing. In this case, however, the trial court treated both causes of action as coextensive and made no separate findings or rulings regarding the Plaintiffs’ due process claim. The appellants did not challenge that aspect of the trial court’s decision below, did not brief or argue that issue before this court—indeed, they did not even independently cite the A.G.W.S. decision in their initial or reply brief—and now raise this point of error for the first time in their motion for rehearing. As such, the appellants have waived that issue ... and we do not comment on the merits of that claim.
Slip Op. at 11-12. Too bad. We could have used some more guidance here in Florida on Substantive Due Process challenges to the government's unreasonable actions to prevent development. 

Lesson learned: figure out whether you're challenging the government's means or its ends early on in a property rights challenge.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Takings of Personal Property: The Importance of Framing A Case

Suppose a local government suddenly bans the production and sale of widgets because public opinion is that the widgets contribute to obesity. Although the land where the widget factory is located could be used for other purposes, the widgets are now worthless because they can’t be sold. And the widget maker has lost a great deal of the capital that was invested in the widget factory and equipment. Does the widget maker have an inverse condemnation claim? It may depend on whether his taking claim is framed as one for tangible or personal property, and not of real property. A claim that the real property had been taken would not likely be successful, since in this hypothetical, it could be used for other purposes.

Most readers will recall that there are physical takings and regulatory takings. Regulatory takings can be complete takings of all economically beneficial uses of a property—or they can be less, in which case courts use a balancing test to determine whether there has been a taking. Most of us in the environmental and land use arena are at least familiar with these concepts when it comes to real property. But what about tangible property?

As recent decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and Florida courts make clear, tangible or personal property is also protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. In Horne v. Department of Agriculture, 576 U.S. _, No. 14-275 (2015), which was decided earlier this year and has been bouncing around the courts for years, the U.S. Supreme Court examined a federal regulation requiring raisin farmers to set aside a percentage of each year’s crop for the government’s benefit—without payment. The Supreme Court held this to be a taking, tracing back the law of personal property takings back to the Magna Carta. Further, it held that because the taking was physical (as opposed to merely a regulatory burden), there was a per se taking, without regard to whether any claimed public benefit or the economic impact on the owner.

Florida's First District Court of Appeal has agreed in a case involving Florida’s oft-ridiculed “pregnant pig” constitutional amendment that banned the use of gestation crates in 2002. State v. Basford, 119 So. 3d 478, 480 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013). There, a farmer who had made substantial improvements to his property and based his pork business on use of the crates brought an inverse condemnation suit against the state. Explaining that “real property, tangible property, and intangible property may be the subject of a takings claim,” the court emphasized that the farmer had not alleged a taking of real property. Id. at 483. Rather, he claimed that the constitutional amendment had taken all economically viable use of his business assets—which included barns, animal crates, a feed mill, and lab equipment. Id. at 481, 483.

In a colorful concurrence, Judge Wolf saw this taking as just as if the government decided, in lieu of seizing a tractor, that it would allow a farmer to keep the tractor but forbid the owner from turning it on. Id. at 484. This explanation should give property owners some cheer, since it hints that, as in Horne, complete restrictions in use of personal property should be compared to physical takings. And it gives the attorney a simple framework for thinking about these kinds of problems.

Both these cases are instances of a takings case being successfully (and creatively) framed. In Horne, there was no way to frame a real property takings claim, and in Basford, the court itself recognized that a real property takings claim would not have had much of a chance of success. Inverse condemnation claims are almost always tricky, so why make a case any more difficult than it needs to be? It seems that Ben Franklin would agree that, as for others, for property rights attorneys, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Have a Development Permit in Florida? You May Be Able to Extend It.

As I wrote about in a recent update with my Stearns Weaver colleagues Reggie Bouthillier and Ken Metcalf, two of Governor Scott's latest executive orders present opportunities for the holders of certain types of development permits in Florida. On August 6, 2015, Governor Scott declared an emergency due to severe flooding in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Dixie, and Taylor Counties. On August 28, 2015, Governor Scott declared an emergency across the state due to the impending arrival of Tropical Storm Erika.

Section 252.363, Florida Statutes, provides for extensions in certain circumstances for some development-related permits:

252.363 Tolling and extension of permits and other authorizations.— 
(1)(a) The declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor tolls the period remaining to exercise the rights under a permit or other authorization for the duration of the emergency declaration. Further, the emergency declaration extends the period remaining to exercise the rights under a permit or other authorization for 6 months in addition to the tolled period. This paragraph applies to the following:
1. The expiration of a development order issued by a local government.
2. The expiration of a building permit.
3. The expiration of a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Protection or a water management district pursuant to part IV of chapter 373.
4. The buildout date of a development of regional impact, including any extension of a buildout date that was previously granted pursuant to s. 380.06(19)(c).
(b) Within 90 days after the termination of the emergency declaration, the holder of the permit or other authorization shall notify the issuing authority of the intent to exercise the tolling and extension granted under paragraph (a). The notice must be in writing and identify the specific permit or other authorization qualifying for extension.
(c) If the permit or other authorization for a phased construction project is extended, the commencement and completion dates for any required mitigation are extended such that the mitigation activities occur in the same timeframe relative to the phase as originally permitted.
(d) This subsection does not apply to:
1. A permit or other authorization for a building, improvement, or development located outside the geographic area for which the declaration of a state of emergency applies.
2. A permit or other authorization under any programmatic or regional general permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.
3. The holder of a permit or other authorization who is determined by the authorizing agency to be in significant noncompliance with the conditions of the permit or other authorization through the issuance of a warning letter or notice of violation, the initiation of formal enforcement, or an equivalent action.
4. A permit or other authorization that is subject to a court order specifying an expiration date or buildout date that would be in conflict with the extensions granted in this section.
(2) A permit or other authorization that is extended shall be governed by the laws, administrative rules, and ordinances in effect when the permit was issued, unless any party or the issuing authority demonstrates that operating under those laws, administrative rules, or ordinances will create an immediate threat to the public health or safety.
(3) This section does not restrict a county or municipality from requiring property to be maintained and secured in a safe and sanitary condition in compliance with applicable laws, administrative rules, or ordinances.
Some local governments, like Palm Beach County, have already created forms to help permit holders in exercising their right to an extension. Even where they have, though, permit holders need to pay particular attention to whether one or both extensions apply and whether other statutory procedures provide further benefits. 

In any case, as the Florida Attorney General has explained, the burden is always on the landowner or permit holder to obtain the extension in the proper manner. They should act quickly to exercise their rights to these extensions.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Federal Jurisdiction over Wetlands Significantly Expanded in Florida

I've had a lot of questions and calls lately about the Army Corps of Engineers' and the EPA's "Clean Water Rule." It is otherwise known as the Waters of the United States Rule (WOTUS), and it significantly expands the federal government's regulatory jurisdiction, especially in Florida. The question is this: how far does the federal government's power reach over water bodies and wetlands, especially those that have nothing to do with navigation or interstate commerce?

As most of you know by now, I've joined the Tampa office of Stearns Weaver. My Tallahassee colleague Reggie Bouthillier, our summer clerk William Anderson, and I wrote an in-depth briefing to update Florida landowners and consultants on how this new rule might affect them. At a conference this summer, a well-known environmental scientists quipped that the new rule of thumb in Florida is that when it rains, there are enough puddles to make the entire state subject to federal jurisdiction. He was only half joking.

Here's the summary of our briefing:

On May, 27, 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") and the United States Army Corps of Engineers ("Corps") issued the final "Clean Water Act Rule," aimed at clarifying the jurisdictional definition of "waters of the United States" ("jurisdictional waters") under the Clean Water Act ("CWA"). The new rule attempts to increase regulatory certainty by reconciling past agency practices, science, and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. As a result, Florida landowners and developers will likely need CWA permits where they were not previously necessary. 
The CWA prohibits the discharge of pollutants into jurisdictional waters. Even though this concept is key to the agencies' regulatory jurisdiction, its outer boundaries have been unclear and have been subject to numerous court challenges. While navigable waters have traditionally been viewed as jurisdictional, most other waters (including wetlands) have been subject to case-by-case analysis to determine whether those waters had a "significant nexus" with navigable waters. Under the Clean Water Act Rule, however, many more waters and wetlands will be categorically defined as jurisdictional waters, in some cases even if the water is relatively isolated and wholly intrastate. Consequently, the rule does give more regulatory certainty, but that certainty gives landowners and developers less flexibility and makes challenges to jurisdictional determinations more difficult. 
On August 28, 2015, the Clean Water Act Rule will go into effect and land owners and developers will face increased regulation, translating into additional costs, timing, and permitting requirements for projects. It is unclear whether efforts to delay the rule's implementation will be successful. Legislation blocking implementation of the rule has passed the House and is pending in the Senate, but it would likely face a presidential veto. At least ten federal law suits are challenging the rule, and several seek preliminary injunctions against the rule's enforcement. 
In light of this new rule and the uncertainty surrounding it, landowners and developers need to be vigilant in protecting their rights in the federal permitting process.
Read the full article here. Since this was published, you should know that a federal judge in North Dakota has issued an injunction against the rule's implementation. At this time, the federal agencies are taking the position that the order only applies to implementation in those states involved in that particular lawsuit. Florida is not one of them - so the Corps and EPA have been implementing the new rule since last Friday, August. 28, 2015.