Much of the ag industry is cheering a 9-0 Supreme Court ruling handed down May 25 that limits what critics have called government overreach exercised through EPA Waters of the United States regulations.
The ruling was on the Sackett v. EPA case involving Idaho property owners who were restricted by the EPA from developing their land.
Commenting shortly after the SCOTUS decision, American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said, “AFBF appreciates the Supreme Court justices for their careful consideration of the implications of Sackett v. EPA. The EPA clearly overstepped its authority under the Clean Water Act by restricting private property owners from developing their land despite being far from the nearest navigable water.
“The justices respect private property rights. It’s now time for the Biden administration to do the same and rewrite the Waters of the United States Rule. Farmers and ranchers share the goal of protecting the resources they’re entrusted with, but they deserve a rule that provides clarity and doesn’t require a team of attorneys to properly care for their land.”
In March a bicameral\bipartisan bill was passed calling for repeal of WOTUS. That bill was vetoed by President Biden on April 6.
Also speaking about the Court’s ruling on May 25 was Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who praised the “decision rejecting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) onerous Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) regulations. All nine justices agreed that the EPA’s expansive regulatory efforts in the case violate the Clean Water Act. The court instead limited the EPA’s authority in a manner consistent with a prior court opinion and an amicus brief filed by Grassley and his colleagues.”
Grassley said, “If the EPA had its way, nearly 97 percent of land in Iowa would be subject to onerous federal red tape. You’d have to get permission from Uncle Sam before moving dirt on your own land under this administration’s WOTUS regulations. Farmers could’ve faced steep fines if water pooled in a ditch after a rainstorm because of the EPA’s far-reaching rules. Thankfully, the Supreme Court saw through this federal overreach and unanimously determined that it violated the Clean Water Act. After years of uncertainty, today’s decision is a victory for farmers, builders, landowners and common sense.”
A release from Grassley’s office added, “The EPA’s WOTUS regulations redefine what land and water is subject to federal requirements under the 1972 Clean Water Act. While the law references “navigable waters,” conflicting agency guidance and confusion in the courts led to new regulations aimed at clarifying the scope of the law. During the Obama and Biden administrations, the EPA exploited that confusion to significantly expand the reach of the federal law.”
Last week’s ruling was authored by Justice Samuel Alito and said references to “waters” that can be regulated by the 1972 Clean Water Act are defined by and restricted to “geographic[al] features that are described in ordinary parlance as ‘streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes’” as well as “adjacent wetlands that are ‘indistinguishable’ from those bodies of water due to a continuous surface connection.”
A May 25 story headlined Supreme Court Rules Against EPA in WOTUS Case posted by AGWEB at https://www.agweb.com/news/policy/politics/supreme-court-rules-against-epa-wotus-case noted, “The U.S. Supreme Court sided with an Idaho couple in a significant environmental case against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a plan to develop a small lot near Priest Lake. This decision has national implications for water quality, ag, development and the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.
“The court was unanimous in finding that the land owned by the Idaho family was not subject to the Clean Water Act. The court was split 5-4 on the court’s new ‘test,’ which stated that only wetlands with a continuous surface connection to a body of water are covered by the law.”
It added, “The case focused on the interpretation of the 1972 Clean Water Act and asked for a clearer definition of what the law intended by giving the EPA authority to regulate WOTUS.”
AGWEB said, “The ruling trims the jurisdiction of EPA to regulate waters under the Clean Water Act to interstate and navigable waters and immediately adjacent wetlands. It is a return to the traditional understanding of what Congress passed in the early 1970s.”
EPA Administrator Michael Regan was quoted in the story as saying, “[The administration] worked to establish a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ that safeguards our nation’s waters, strengthens economic opportunity, and protects people’s health while providing the clarity and certainty that farmers, ranchers, and landowners deserve.” He added that the EPA’s “goals will continue to guide the agency forward as we carefully review the Supreme Court decision and consider next steps.”
In individual comments, Court Justice Alito and four other justices stated “that the federal government could regulate water that has a ‘continuous surface connection’ to major bodies of water. This ruling overturns a previous decision by a federal appeals court that supported the EPA.”
AGWEB said that Alito contended “the EPA’s interpretation of its powers went ‘too far,’and he wrote, “We hold that the Clean Water Act extends to only those wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are ‘waters of the United States’ in their own right, so that they are ‘indistinguishable’ from those waters.”
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan compared the ruling “to last term’s decision limiting the EPA’s ability to combat climate change,” saying, “The vice in both instances is the same: the Court’s appointment of itself as the national decision-maker on environmental policy.”
Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh objected to the majority’s reading of the law, writing that the new test “departs from the statutory text, from 45 years of consistent agency practice, and from this Court’s precedents” and will have “significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States.”
The ag industry, in the meantime, lauds the decision. AGWEB said Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.) called the ruling a “`victory’ for farmers, ranchers and landowners.” Thompson said, “The decision reaffirms the rights of property owners and provides long-needed clarity to rural America. In light of this decision, the Biden Administration should withdraw its flawed final WOTUS rule. It is time to finally put an end to the regulatory whiplash and create a workable rule that promotes clean water while protecting the rights of rural Americans.”
The Sackett v. EPA case began in 2004 when Michael and Chantell Sackett bought a residential lot in an Idaho subdivision, securing necessary county permits for developing their site.
AG said, “… the EPA argued that the land was subject to its review because it contained wetlands about 300 feet from Priest Lake.”
Before the Supreme Court for a second time, the case “was closely monitored by environmentalists, developers, and farming groups due to the ongoing debate over the extent of the EPA’s jurisdiction beyond navigable lakes, rivers, and into smaller streams and wetlands,” AGWEB reported.
It added, “A court decision against the EPA, said Attorney Rafe Petersen, who represents miners, offshore wind developers and others seeking EPA permit, likely leaves the Biden administration to start all over again from scratch.”
Peterson said, “I don’t see how they get away from that. The Biden administration is really boxed into the corner.”