The Supreme Court handed down a decision Thursday weakening the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) power over regulating bodies of water, and some are calling it a victory against government overreach.
In a new opinion, members of the high court unanimously agreed the Clean Water Act doesn’t give the EPA the authority to block homeowners from building a home near a wetland in Idaho.
The EPA prohibited Idaho residents Michael and Chantell Sackett from building a home near a wetland years ago, citing the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972.
“The EPA ordered the Sacketts to restore the site, threatening penalties of over $40,000 per day,” stated Justice Samuel Alito in the majority opinion. “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.'”
Although the justices unanimously agreed on the decision, they were split 5-4 as to how the federal government should define water sources.
The ruling determined that bodies of water classified as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) must be restricted to a water source with a “continuous surface connection” to major bodies of water.
“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.
Environmental advocates said the decision would strip protections from tens of millions of acres of wetlands.
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“The Supreme Court ripped the heart out of the law we depend on to protect American waters and wetlands. The majority chose to protect polluters at the expense of healthy wetlands and waterways. This decision will cause incalculable harm. Communities across the country will pay the price,” Manish Bapna, the chief executive of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.
Others are applauding the court’s decision for limiting the agency’s reach.
“Today, the Supreme Court sent a loud and clear warning shot to the Biden administration about its attempts to overregulate the lives of millions of Americans,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“By rejecting the ‘significant nexus’ test, the Court protected America’s farmers, ranchers, builders, and landowners from overreach under the Clean Water Act, and ruled President Biden’s recent WOTUS rule goes too far,” Capito added. “I was proud to both support the petitioners on this case last year and lead a successful effort this year in Congress to overturn the Biden WOTUS rule, and am thrilled with the Court’s decision today, which is a major win for individual freedom.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) also tweeted his support for the ruling, saying, “Americans have the right to work and live as they see fit. That’s why I’ve always fought to keep the power in their hands, not the federal government’s. This is a big victory for freedom-loving Americans!”
Americans have the right to work and live as they see fit. That’s why I’ve always fought to keep the power in their hands, not the federal government’s. This is a big victory for freedom-loving Americans!https://t.co/EYtqrjedjK
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) May 25, 2023