Supreme Court Limits WOTUS Authority

Brian GermanAgri-Business, Industry, Water, WOTUS Act

The broad authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its administration of the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule has been curbed. A decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Sackett v. EPA, now narrows WOTUS authority. The Justices ruled in favor of Chantell and Michael Sackett in their effort to build a home in an area EPA classified as a protected wetland. The Court determined that the WOTUS component of the Clean Water Act (CWA) had been misinterpreted by EPA.

WOTUS Authority

In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote “the CWA extends to only those ‘wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are ‘waters of the United States’ in their own right,’ so that they are “indistinguishable” from those waters.” The Court has decided that the CWA can not be applied to wetlands like swamps, marshes, and berms that are only “adjacent” to larger bodies of navigable water.

In their dissenting opinions, justices Elena Kagan and Brett Kavanaugh claim that the Court has rewritten the CWA. However, Justice Alito points out that their argument ignores the statutory provision limiting CWA’s geographic reach. Justice Alito writes, “Thus, neither separate opinion even attempts to explain how the wetlands included in their interpretation fall within a fair reading of “waters.” Textualist arguments that ignore the operative text cannot be taken seriously.”

Several agricultural groups have expressed appreciation for the decision to limit WOTUS authority. The Agricultural Retailers Association notes that the decision “finally restores common sense back into WOTUS regulation.” The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), which has long been engaged in efforts to reform WOTUS, also noted appreciation for the ruling.

“The EPA clearly overstepped its authority under the Clean Water Act by restricting private property owners from developing their land despite being far from the nearest navigable water,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a statement. “The justices respect private property rights. It’s now time for the Biden administration to do the same and rewrite the Waters of the United States Rule.”

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West