Biden Administration Backs Down After Supreme Court Decision

Biden Administration Backs Down After Supreme Court Decision

( – When President Joe Biden took office, he attempted to extend protections to most of the wetlands across the United States. To do so, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defined “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Supreme Court put a wrench in the administration’s plans, and now it’s backing down.

The Supreme Court Fight

“WOTUS” had not previously had a definition in the CWA, leaving it up to government agencies to interpret the rules for permitting requirements. That changed in January 2023 when the final rule was published. WOTUS was defined as all interstate waters and adjoining wetlands. In order to be protected as “adjacent,” there had to be a continuous surface that connected wetlands to the interstate waterway.

On May 25, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a couple, Chantelle and Michael Sackett, after they sued the EPA. The Sacketts purchased a residential lot near Priest Lake, Idaho. They began placing gravel and sand on the lot to prepare it for their home’s construction. The EPA then informed them that they had to stop work and restore the property because backfilling the property was a violation of the CWA’s rule against adding pollutants to the WOTUS. The federal agency threatened them with fines of more than $40,000 per day. The Ninth Circuit ruled against the couple.

The EPA’s issue was that the couple’s property contained a ditch that fed into a creek that then fed into Priest Lake, a navigable interstate lake.

EPA Backs Down

On August 29, the EPA issued a statement informing the public that it amended its WOTUS rule in order to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. The agency stated that even though the high court didn’t rule specifically on its definition, it was clear by the ruling that “certain aspects of the 2023 rule are invalid.”

In response, the EPA removed its test that determines whether wetlands are adjacent to the protected waterways. The Supreme Court determined that a waterway can only be protected under the CWA if they have a “continuous surface connection to bodies that are [WOTUS] in their own right, so that there is no clear demarcation between ‘waters’ and wetlands.”

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said he’s “disappointed” by the high court’s ruling, but the agency still has “an obligation” to abide by it and apply it. Experts believe the decision by the EPA will remove federal protections from nearly all of the wetlands in the US, something developers have long wanted.

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