The Supreme Court has dealt a blow to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by reducing the broad powers the agency had claimed under the Clean Water Act.
The nation’s highest court has ruled in the EPA’s purported authority to oversee water pollution, saying the Clean Water Act doesn’t give the agency the authority to regulate discharges in certain areas moist near bodies of water.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the five-judge majority, explained that the law only covers wetlands that have a continuous surface connection to those bodies of water.
“The scope 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 in danger of being classified by EPA employees as wetlands covered by law and, according to the federal government, if homeowners start building a home on a lot that the agency believes has the necessary moisture, the owners are at the agency’s mercy.”
Judge Kavanaugh joined three liberal judges in issuing a concurring opinion, which said the decision would harm the EPA’s ability to fight pollution.
“By reducing the Act’s wetlands coverage to only adjacent wetlands,” he wrote, “the court’s new test will leave some long-regulated adjacent wetlands no longer covered by the Clean Water Act, with significant repercussions for water quality and flood control worldwide. United States.”
The decision follows a ruling last year that limited the EPA’s authority to address climate change under the Clean Air Act. Justice Elena Kagan, in a separate concurring opinion, drew parallels between the two cases, criticizing the court’s designation as the national decision-maker on environmental policy. Kagan argued that the majority’s approach prevents the EPA from effectively regulating adjacent wetlands, just as it prevented the agency from curbing emissions from power plants to address climate change.
The case at hand, Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, involved an Idaho couple, Michael and Chantell Sackett, who wanted to build a house on a residential lot near Priest Lake in the state’s county .
The agency ordered the couple to stop their construction activities and restore the property to its original condition, threatening them with significant fines. Instead, the Sacketts filed suit against the agency, prompting a dispute over the timeliness of the lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court on an earlier appeal. In 2012, the courts ruled that the lawsuit could continue.
Justice Alito, in a concurring opinion during the earlier appeal, had expressed concern about the excessive power granted to the EPA by the Clean Water Act. He criticized the ambiguity surrounding the act’s scope, arguing that any land that is wet intermittently throughout the year is at risk of being classified as wetlands at the agency’s discretion.
The state of Texas in March had blocked the Biden administration’s Clean Water Act rule in federal court.
“Big win against Biden: Last night a federal court blocked the Administrator’s radical ‘Waters of the USA’ rule, which imposes a left-wing environmental agenda on Texas, crushing new regulations and oppressive economic costs. Always I will fight to keep Biden’s boots off the necks of Texans!” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted.
Attorney General Paxton had filed a complaint in January against the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, against the Biden administration’s review of the “waters of the United States.”
“The Clean Water Act (“CWA”) requires federal permits to discharge pollutants into ‘navigable waters,'” the lawsuit states. “‘Navigable waters,’ in turn, are defined as ‘the waters of the United States, including territorial seas’. Waters that do not fit this definition are not under federal jurisdiction and may still be regulated by states and tribes.
“Through this challenge, plaintiffs assert that by amending the definition of “waters of the United States,” as provided in the final rule, federal agencies unconstitutionally and impermissibly expand their own authority beyond congressional delegation to the CWA, intruding on state sovereignty. and the liberties of states and their citizens,” the lawsuit continues. “The final rule also lacks clarity, leaving those seeking to identify the scope of federal power over the land drought or minor water features at the mercy of an expensive, vague, and arbitrary analysis, lest they face a staggering criminal or civil penalty.”
Paxton’s legal complaint cites the Supreme Court’s decision in Rapanos v. United States, which rejected the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “assertion of expanded authority over non-navigable intrastate waters that are not connected significantly with navigable interstate waters.”
On December 30, 2022, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers announced the “Revised Definition of “Waters of the United States”” final rule. On January 18, 2023, the rule was published in the Federal Register; the rule was set to take effect on March 20, 2023.
The Federal Register cites the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes that purportedly recognized that Congress delegated “broad federal action.”
regulatory authority” in the Clean Water Act and hoped that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army would address the “difficulties inherent in defining precise limits on regulated waters.”
In December, the EPA and the US military made a joint announcement to justify the rule change.
“Today, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of the Army (the agencies) announced a final rule establishing a durable definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to reduce the uncertainty of changing regulatory definitions, protect people’s health and support economic opportunity,” the joint announcement said. “The final rule restores essential water protections that existed before 2015 under the Clean Water Act for traditional navigable waters, territorial seas, interstate waters, as well as upstream water resources that affect significantly those waters. As a result, this action will strengthen critical protections for waters that are sources of drinking water while supporting agriculture, local economies and downstream communities.”
“When Congress passed the Clean Water Act 50 years ago, it recognized that protecting our waters is essential to ensuring healthy communities and a thriving economy,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “After extensive stakeholder engagement and based on what we learned from previous rulemakings, EPA is working to provide a durable definition of WOTUS that safeguards our nation’s waters, strengthens economic opportunity, and protect people’s health while offering greater certainty to farmers and ranchers, and landowners.”
“This final rule recognizes the essential role of the nation’s water resources in communities across the country,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael L. Connor. “The rule’s clear and consistent definition of waters of the United States will allow for more efficient and effective implementation and provide the clarity long desired by farmers, industry, environmental organizations and other stakeholders.”
Attorney General Paxton, in a press release in February urging the court to issue a preliminary injunction, argued that the Clean Water Act was being exploited to exert “federal control over states like Texas.”
“The environmental extremists who wrote this illegal rule have no interest in respecting our sovereignty or our natural resources,” Attorney General Paxton said. “For this administration, this is not about environmental protection, it’s about federal control over states like Texas, and we will not allow it. This rule is unlikely to survive our efforts to stop it permanently, and it is important that the court prevents the definition change from taking effect until our case is decided.”
It turns out that the Supreme Court has rendered the EPA rule moot, striking a blow against the agency’s powers and the Biden administration’s climate change agenda.
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