Supreme Court Limits Feds’ Power Over Wetlands

( — A Supreme Court ruling has limited government power in the protection of wetlands. The Justices said wetlands could only come under federal regulation if they have a “continuous surface connection” to larger bodies of water subject to government supervision. The previous ruling stated that only bodies of water with a “significant nexus” to more extensive waterways were protected.

The case involved an Idaho couple who challenged the government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The couple wanted to build a house on their property, but the agency said water on the land came under the scope of the Clean Water Act. The Court ruled in favor of the couple and enforced the “continuous surface connection” test that determines whether a waterway comes under the Act’s remit.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 prohibits the discharge of pollutants, including rocks and sand, into the “waters of the United States.” A debate surrounding what qualifies as “waters of the United States” has continued since the legislation was first introduced. Environmental activists say the latest ruling “undoes a half-century of progress generated by the Clean Water Act.”

Liberal Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ketanji Brown Jackson accused the bench’s conservatives of imposing their own ideology and policy preferences onto the Clean Water Act, and defying the will of Congress in doing so. “The Court, rather than Congress, will decide how much is too much,” Kagan said. “That is not how I think our government should work,” she added.

Attorney Damien Schiff, however, said the decision boosted property rights and returned the Clean Water Act to its “original and proper limits.”

President Biden said the ruling upends decades of legal protection aimed at combating pollution. He said the White House would do all in its power to protect the nation’s waters and the clean sources that families and farmers rely on. Environmental group Earthjustice said ecosystems are now at risk as fish and other aquatic life lose vital protections.

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