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SCOTUS Clarifies States’ Authority Concerning Regulation of Land and Water in Sackett v. EPA Case


On Friday, May 25, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) announced a ruling and clarification on the Clean Water Act (CWA). The ruling voted in favor of an Idaho couple, Michael and Chantell Sackett, who have been battling with the federal government for over 15 years in their efforts to build a house on an empty lot near a large lake, the SCOTUS blog reports.

Though the debate was over a building struggle, the ruling clarified for farmers, landowners, businesses and state departments of agriculture across the U.S. who have sought guidance concerning the CWA.

The holding was that “The CWA extends only to wetlands that have a continuous surface connection with ‘waters’ of the United States — i.e., with a relatively permanent body of water connected to traditional interstate navigable waters, 33 U.S.C. § 1362(7) — making it difficult to determine where the water ends and the wetland begins,” SCOTUS said.

Justice Samuel Alito explained courts should apply a more stringent test, in which the CWA would apply to a particular wetland only if it blends or flows into a neighboring water that is a channel for interstate commerce.

“The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Sackett v. EPA today comes as welcome news to farmers, landowners and state departments of agriculture who sought clarity on what has been an over-litigated issue for decades,” Ted McKinney, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (CASDA), said in a release. “We take relief in this decision as the justices clearly state the ‘significant nexus theory is particularly implausible’ and the EPA has no statutory basis to impose the standard.

“Today’s ruling proves that protecting our nation’s waterways and growing food, fiber and fuel are two tandem efforts — not two competing interests,” McKinney said. “There is, however, still work to be done to ensure farmers and ranchers are equipped to best care for their land while following applicable federal or state requirements.”

In addition, the National Corn Growers Association (NGCA) notes this news is important for corn growers.

“This sensible ruling preserves protections for our nation’s valuable water resources while providing clarity to farmers and others about the process of determining federal jurisdiction over wetlands,” said NCGA President Tom Haag in a release. “This is a great day for corn growers.”

The EPA is now expected to issue a revised rule, NGCA reports.