SCOTUS narrows EPA authority on waterways
In a landmark 9-0 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday (May 25) has stripped away regulatory powers from the Environmental Protection Agency when it comes to pollution control in U.S. waterways. The ruling will narrow the EPA’s regulatory authority.
The decision is being hailed as a win for property rights advocates while being touted as a blow to environmental protection efforts.
Landowners in the case Sackett v. EPA had argued the EPA’s powers to regulate wetlands were too broad and could criminalize many landowners who didn’t understand or couldn’t comply with the burdensome regulations.
Michael and Chantell Sackett bought land near Priest Lake in the Idaho panhandle in 2004. The couple began backfilling dirt on the lot to build a house. The EPA notified the couple that their property was deemed to be in the “Waters of the U.S.” zone and therefore subject to the Clean Water Act.
The couple was ordered to return the property to its original condition or face a $40,000 per day fine until it was done. Court battles soon ensued. The EPA won at the lower court level, but lost when it reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, stated the regulations were too broadly applied and it could criminalize many property owners throughout the country.
While the court was unanimous when it came to deciding who should win the lawsuit, it had a 5-4 split decision on how far the EPA should be able to go when it comes to regulating wetlands. Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ketanji Brown Jackson in the minority dissent.
Kavanaugh argued that limiting the EPA’s regulatory powers could lead to rampant pollution problems and flood control damage in the country’s waterways.
Conservatives have hailed the decision as a major victory while liberals have lampooned the decision as a step in the wrong direction. President Joe Biden disagreed with the ruling and warned of its ramifications.
“The Supreme Court’s disappointing decision in Sackett v. EPA will take our country backwards. It puts our Nation’s wetlands – and the rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds connected to them – at risk of pollution and destruction, jeopardizing the sources of clean water that millions of American families, farmers, and businesses rely on,” Biden said.
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro praised the court’s ruling, which has major ramifications for agricultural land across Arkansas.
“For decades the EPA has expanded its own authority through the Clean Water Act by re-defining Waters of the United States (WOTUS) to include ditches and puddles, inching closer and closer to regulating land rather than water. The Supreme Court’s 9-0 judgment against the EPA today makes clear that EPA’s overreach has been egregious. In fact, the Court notes that the Biden Administration’s position both encroached on states’ regulatory authority and improperly threatened citizens with steep fines and jail time for unknowingly breaking the EPA’s broad and vague standards. It is now time for the Biden Administration to repeal its latest WOTUS rule that is in plain opposition to the Court’s decision and continues the EPA’s efforts to control the private property rights of rural Americans,” Crawford said.