Washington (EFE) terrain, a decision with implications for the country’s wetlands.
The Idaho-based Sacketts’ legal battle dates back more than a decade. They bought some land in 2004 and wanted to fill it with gravel and rocks to build a house on that lot, located 100 meters from Priest Lake.
They obtained local permits, but the EPA ordered a halt to work and return the land to its original state, alleging that the area contained wetlands subject to the protection of the Clean Water Act. The Sacketts ended up suing the EPA, finding that its authority did not extend to their land.
The Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, determined this Thursday that the interpretation made by that agency of protected wetlands is “inconsistent” with the text and structure of the law, which covers only “wetlands with a continuous connection to bodies of water, considered as ‘waters of the United States’ in their own right”.
Wetlands, in the middle of the gaps of a law
The Court considered that the EPA must provide “clear evidence” of its authorization to regulate in the matter and also called on Congress to enact “extremely clear language if it wishes to significantly alter the balance between federal, state and government power over private property ”.
Conservative Justice Samuel Alito admitted in delivering the court’s decision, backed by 5 votes in favor and 4 against, that the Clean Water Act is successful and that before its enactment in 1972 many of the country’s rivers and lakes were seriously contaminated.
However, he stressed that the geographical scope of that regulation was vague from the beginning. “It applies to the waters of the United States, but what does that phrase mean?” he wondered, noting that this has meant that for half a century the agencies responsible for its application have had to deal with different interpretations.
For the Supreme, the Clean Water Act extends only to those “with a continuous connection to bodies of ‘United States waters’ in their own right”, so that they are “indistinguishable” from those waters, and the wetlands on the property from the Sacketts they are differentiated.
Danger in the water supply?
The National Wildlife Federation said in a statement that today’s ruling jeopardizes the supply of drinking water for millions of people and threatens the health of the nation’s streams and wetlands.
“The federal protections of the Water Act are essential for vulnerable and disadvantaged communities across the country. The court’s ruling removes protections that are vital to streams and wetlands in every state,” said the organization’s Director of Legal Defense, Jim Murphy.
Murphy therefore called on “both Congress and state governments to intervene, close the gap and protect threatened waters and the people who depend on them.”