The Supreme Court has limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority regarding where to apply safeguards by narrowing which waters are subject to federal protections under the Clean Water Act.
The court concluded in the ruling that for a wetland to be protected, it must have a “continuous surface connection” with a protected body of water, rendering the two regions “indistinguishable” from one another.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion, which was joined by most of his fellow conservatives, including John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.
The verdict reversed a lower court decision that employed different criteria, ruling that certain wetlands deserved Clean Water Act protections because they had an ecologically “significant nexus” to other protected waters.
The decision ruled in favor of Idaho landowners Michael and Chantell Sackett, who had previously been barred from building a home on land they owned due to wetlands.
While all nine judges agreed that the decision should be overturned, they disagreed on the threshold for conserving wetlands in the future.
The four argued in two separate concurring opinions, one from conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh and one from liberal Justice Elena Kagan, who Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson joined, that protected waters should include those separated from protected water by something like a man-made barrier.
Here’s a tweet from one of the most popular websites, The Hill, about Supreme Court Limits EPA Authority in Protecting Certain Wetlands:-
— The Hill (@thehill) May 25, 2023
A former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Act litigation specialist, the verdict could result in the disappearance of some of the country’s wetlands.
“If you’re a developer and you buy a piece of farmland with a bunch of wetlands that aren’t right next to the river…you could just go out and fill those wetlands right now.” “Unless the state requires it, you don’t need a permit,” Ryan explained.
“We’re probably going to lose a lot of wetlands, and wetlands serve an important function in society,” he continued. “They filter water, absorb floodwaters, and provide habitat for birds and animals.”
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In a written statement, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said he was “disappointed” by the court’s judgment, which “erodes longstanding clean water protections.”
He did not immediately address the consequences of the agency’s water regulations. Still, he did say that the administration was working to establish a “durable” definition of “waters of the United States” and that the agency would carefully analyze the decision to determine its next moves.
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