The Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday narrowing the federal government's authority regulating bodies of water and effectively upending a Biden administration policy that recently went into effect.
The high court's unanimous 9-0 decision, which was delivered by Justice Samuel Alito, rejected the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) broad definition of Waters of the United States (WOTUS). The case centered on Michael and Chantall Sackett, two Idaho residents whom the EPA prohibited from building a home near a wetland years ago, citing the Clean Waters Act (CWA) of 1972.
"The EPA ordered the Sacketts to restore the site, threatening penalties of over $40,000 per day," Alito's majority opinion stated. "The EPA classified the wetlands on the Sacketts’ lot as ‘waters of the United States’ because they were near a ditch that fed into a creek, which fed into Priest Lake, a navigable, intrastate lake. The Sacketts sued, alleging that their property was not ‘waters of the United States.’"
The ruling ultimately held that the federal government's WOTUS definition must be restricted to a water source with a "continuous surface connection" to major bodies of water.
While the decision was unanimous on the merits, the court split 5-4 on determining how the federal government should go about defining water sources.
"Understanding the CWA to apply to wetlands that are distinguishable from otherwise covered ‘waters of the United States’ would substantially broaden [existing statute] to define 'navigable waters' as 'waters of the United States and adjacent wetlands,'" Alito wrote.
The ruling, which was cheered by Republican lawmakers and groups representing landowners, comes months after the EPA finalized and implemented a new WOTUS regulation.
On Dec. 30, the final working day of 2022, the EPA and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers quietly announced they had approved the WOTUS regulation and that it would be implemented in March. After announcing it, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the rule "safeguards our nation’s waters."
The rule opened the door for the federal government to regulate wetlands, lakes, ponds, streams and "relatively permanent" waterways, largely mimicking a pre-2015 environmental rule set during the Obama administration which implemented the changes in an effort to curb water pollution. The regulation was the broadest interpretation to date of which water sources require protection under the CWA.... (Read more)
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