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Supreme Court Limits Scope of Federal Waters Rule
New York Ag Connection - 05/26/2023

The Supreme Court has ruled that a relatively narrow category of wetlands can be regulated by the federal government.

The Clean Water Act applies to wetlands only if they have a continuous surface connection to waters of the United States so that they are indistinguishable from those waters, said Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court.

The definition draws heavily on a 2006 ruling and turns back the Environmental Protection Agency’s bid for more expansive jurisdiction.

The suit was brought by Michael and Chantell Sackett, who began backfilling a lot to build a house in Priest Lake, Idaho. The EPA told them to stop and restore the site because their property contained federally protected wetlands.

The court held May 25 that the Sacketts’ property was distinguishable from any possibly covered waters. In so doing, the justices reversed a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the lower court.

The justices were unanimous in finding for the plaintiffs but differed on the test they thought should be applied.

The majority interpreted the Clean Water Act to apply to wetlands adjoining waters of the United States. But the text of the law stipulates wetlands that are “adjacent,” which has a broader meaning than adjoining, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Elena Kagan said.

The ruling is the latest step in a series of court opinions and federal rules attempting to clarify which water bodies, known as waters of the United States, are covered by the 50-year-old Clean Water Act.


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