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Supreme Court Upholds Wetland Protection

On December 16 the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling protecting wetlands from damaging agricultural operations. The court ruled one week after hearing oral argument, which prompted The New York Times's Linda Greenhouse to speculate that there was a hopelessly deadlocked, unbreakable four-to-four tie (Justice Kennedy had recused himself because he is acquainted with the farmer).

Earthjustice had filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing attempts by agricultural, mining, and roadbuilding interests to accelerate unpermitted destruction of wetlands and streams around the nation.

At issue in the case are activities on a California ranch that destroyed and damaged numerous wetlands and streams in converting them to crop production. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that such activity could not be undertaken without a permit, and federal district and appellate courts in California agreed.

A wide range of industry interests asked the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court's ruling. Representing proponents of agriculture, as well as of mining, roadbuilding, homebuilding, and other infrastructure projects, they claimed they should be allowed to damage and destroy wetlands and streams without a permit. Also, they asked the Court to reject the interpretation of the Clean Water Act underlying a key 2001 wetland and stream protection rule, despite support for the rule by both the previous administration and the present one. (See http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/dredgedmat/pressrel.html.)

Earthjustice filed its brief on behalf of National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and National Audubon Society.