WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday to make it harder for the federal government to crack down on water pollution. Decision to strip protection from wetlands Isolated from larger bodies of water.
This is the second time in several years that a conservative majority in the court has narrowed the scope of environmental regulations.
Judges defended their property rights over clean water concerns in a ruling in favor of an Idaho couple seeking to build a home near Priest Lake in the state’s Panhandle. Shantel Sackett and Michael Sackett objected that federal officials would have to identify wetlands on the site and obtain a permit before construction.
The court, in a written opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, said by a 5-4 vote that a wetland can only be regulated if it has a “continuous surface connection” with a larger regulated body of water.
The court overturned a 17-year-old opinion by former colleague Anthony Kennedy, allowing the regulation of wetlands that have a “significant relationship” with large waterways.
Kennedy’s opinion was the basis for evaluating whether a wetland was covered by the Act. Clean water law. Opponents objected that the standard was vague and impracticable.
Environmentalists had predicted that more than half of the country’s wetlands would be stripped of their protection if the law’s scope were narrowed.
In response to the decision, Natural Resources Defense Council Chief Executive Manish Bapna called on Congress to amend the Clean Water Act to restore wetland protection, with states strengthening their own laws. asked to do.
“The Supreme Court has removed the core of the law we rely on to protect America’s waters and wetlands. “This decision will cause immeasurable damage. Communities across the country will pay the price,” Bapuna said in a statement.
The outcome will almost certainly affect the ongoing legal battle over new wetland regulations introduced by the Biden administration in December. Two federal judges temporarily blocked these rules from being enforced in 26 states.
In Thursday’s ruling, all nine judges agreed that wetlands on the Sacketts’ property were not covered by the law.
However, only five judges participated in the opinion imposing a new test to assess when wetlands are subject to the Clean Water Act.
Conservative Brett Kavanaugh and three liberal justices on the court accused colleagues of rewriting the law.
Kavanaugh wrote that the court’s “new and too narrow test could push wetlands long regulated and long accepted as regulatable suddenly beyond the agency’s regulatory authority.”
Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the majority’s rewrite of the law was “an effort to contain anti-pollution action that Congress thought was appropriate.” Kagan referred to last year’s decision to limit greenhouse gas emissions regulations under the Clean Air Act.
In both cases, the courts “appointed themselves as national decision-makers on environmental policy,” she noted. Kagan also enlisted her liberal colleagues Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson in her writing.