Supreme Court Limits E.P.A.’s Power to Address Water Pollution

The Supreme Court on Thursday… Reduced the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency. to police water pollution, ruling that the Clean Water Act does not allow the agency to regulate discharges into certain wetlands near water bodies.

The court said the law only covers wetlands “with a continuous surface connection” to those waters, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the five justices.

The decision was nominally unanimous, with all judges agreeing that the homeowners who brought the case should not have been subject to agency oversight. But there was sharp disagreement about the majority’s reasoning.

Justice Brett M. Cavanaugh, joined by three independent justices in the concurring opinion, said the decision would harm the EPA’s ability to deal with pollution.

“By limiting the Act’s wetlands coverage to only contiguous wetlands,” he wrote, “the Court’s new test would leave some long-regulated contiguous wetlands no longer covered by the Clean Water Act.” will not be covered, which will have significant implications for water quality and flood control. United States.”

This decision was made after a decision last year. Limits the EPA’s power to address climate change. Under the Clean Air Act

“There,” Justice Kagan wrote in a second concurring opinion, “the majority’s nontextualism prevented the EPA from most effectively addressing climate change by curbing power plant emissions. Here, that approach allowed the EPA to contiguous galleys.” Prevents us from keeping our nation’s waters clean by regulating lands. In both cases, the error is the same: the Court’s appointment of itself as the national decision-maker on environmental policy.

The case, Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 21-454, concerned an Idaho couple, Michael and Chantell Sackett, who sought to build a home in an appellate court name near Priest Lake. Panhandle of the state

When the couple began preparing the property for construction in 2007 by adding sand, gravel and fill, the agency ordered them to return the property to its original condition, threatening them with hefty fines. The couple sued the agency instead, and the dispute over whether the lawsuit was premature reached the Supreme Court in an earlier appeal. In 2012, Justice of the government So that the case can proceed.

I A unanimous opinion At the time, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the law gave the agency too much power.

“The reach of the Clean Water Act is notoriously unclear,” he wrote. “Any piece of land that is wet for at least part of the year is at risk of being classified as a wetland by EPA employees under the Act, and according to the federal government, if property owners have too much They start building houses on the site. The agency thinks the moisture is desirable, property owners are at the mercy of the agency.”

The Clean Water Act allows for the regulation of discharges into what the law calls “waters of the United States.” The question for the judges was how to determine which wetlands qualified as such bodies of water.

Lower courts ruled that the Sacketts’ property was a wetland that the agency could regulate, concluding that it qualified under the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision. Ripanos v. United Stateswhich included competitive tests to decide the question.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, wrote for four justices in the Rapanos decision that only wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to a “relatively permanent, standing or flowing body of water” are eligible. This criterion appeared to favor Sacketts.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who retired in 2018, said in a concurring opinion that the law requires only a “significant nexus” between the wetlands and water bodies at issue.

Concurring three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit of the government that Justice Kennedy’s opinion was the controlling opinion; agency, Judge Michelle T. Friedland “It is reasonably determined that the Sacketts’ property contains wetlands that have a significant adjacency to Priest Lake,” the panel wrote.

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