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Supreme Court Dramatically Redefines the Clean Water Act


Supreme Court Dramatically Redefines the Clean Water Act

Key Takeaways

  • May 25 SCOTUS decision significantly curtails the power of  the EPA to regulate wetlands

  • Majority determines that navigable waters regulated by  the EPA do not include many previously regulated wetlands

  • Biden Administration and environmental groups concerned about sweeping implications

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday significantly curtailed the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the nation’s wetlands and waterways. The ruling in Sackett v. EPA (Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency 598 U.S. ____ (2023)) was a setback for the EPA and a victory for an Idaho couple, Michael and Chantell Sackett, who have been battling with the federal government for 15 years in their efforts to build a house on an empty lot near a large lake. Justice Alito, writing for the court majority, held that the navigable waters of the United States regulated by the EPA under the 51 year-old Clean Water Act do not include many previously regulated wetlands. He added that the CWA extends to only streams, oceans, rivers and lakes, and those wetlands with a “continuous surface connection to those bodies.”

This was the court’s second decision in a year limiting the ability of the agency to enact anti-pollution regulations. President Biden and numerous environmental groups were extremely disappointed in the decision and are concerned that it will undo a half-century of progress generated by the CWA and now places millions of acres of protected wetlands at risk from polluters and developers.

The decision could have wide sweeping implications and our Environmental Law Monitor team will be working to unpack and explain those complications in the coming days. Stay tuned…

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