SCOTUS Ruling Spurs EPA to Reduce Protection for U.S. Waterways

More than half the country’s wetlands, along with streams and even lakes, could be left vulnerable to pollution


Erin Fitzgerald, Earthjustice,

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their updated Waters of the United States Rule, commonly referred to as “WOTUS”, in response to the Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Court’s ruling severely weakened the scope of the Clean Water Act, drastically limiting which bodies of water are protected from pollution under the bedrock environmental law, in what is the largest rollback of water protections in the United States.

The EPA will now rely on a radically narrower definition of protected waters, severely limiting the scope and effectiveness of the Clean Water Act, one of the most successful, effective, and widely supported pieces of legislation ever codified in the United States. In addition to removing protections for well over half of the wetlands in our country, a substantial number of tributaries, streams, and even lakes may very well lose Clean Water Act protections.

“The Supreme Court’s right-wing supermajority’s disastrous ruling in Sackett v. EPA reduced EPA’s ability to protect our wetlands and waters from destruction and contamination,” said Patrice Simms, Vice President of Litigation for Healthy Communities. “The new rule from EPA adjusts its existing regulations to comport with Sackett and reflects our dangerous new reality — one where mining companies, Big Ag fossil fuel developers, and other polluting industries can bulldoze and fill wetlands indiscriminately, harming our public health and ecosystems. The politically motivated decision by the Supreme Court ignores science and flies in the face of what almost everyone knows: that we all need clean water.”

In Sackett v. EPA, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) dismissed established science and radically narrowed the definition of what can be a protected wetland, severely limiting the reach of the Clean Water Act. The Sackett decision, handed down by the new conservative supermajority marked a significant departure from previous SCOTUS interpretations of the Clean Water Act. This reflects the Supreme Court’s disturbing pattern of striking down environmental regulations to serve industry interests at the expense of the environment and people. It did much the same in last term’s West Virginia v. EPA ruling.

Canoeing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota.
Canoeing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota. (Brad Zweerink / Earthjustice)

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