SCOTUS Ruling Puts Bay Area Wetlands at Risk

The United States Supreme Court today ruled that the Clean Water Act does not allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate some wetlands near bodies of protected waters. The court determined that the law covers only wetlands “with a continuous surface connection” to protected waters, even though they may be part of the same greater ecosystem or have been artificially separated by human-made barriers.

San Francisco Baykeeper and allied organizations filed an amicus brief last year with the United States Supreme Court to defend the Clean Water Act from efforts to substantially narrow the definition of federally protected waters. The clean water advocates argued in support of the EPA in the case Sackett v. EPA, and asked the Supreme Court to uphold the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling about the scope of wetlands protected under the landmark environmental law.

Today’s ruling will jeopardize the health of San Francisco Bay, and remove protections from many of the wetlands around the Bay. The ruling is another “clear statement” rule designed to reach the court’s preferred deregulatory outcome, just like in West Virginia v. EPA.

Eric Buescher, SF Baykeeper managing attorney, issued the following response:

“The Waters of the United States need strong and uniform protections in order to create and maintain a healthy network of waterways. That’s what Congress intended with the Clean Water Act, yet today the Supreme Court ripped those protections apart with its ruling in Sackett v. EPA, dramatically eliminating protections for wetlands under federal law.

“By shattering water quality protections for wetlands across countless state and local jurisdictions, the Supreme Court’s ruling will lead to a nationwide patchwork of sacrifice zones, and invite regulatory chaos. It could also remove protections for wetlands connected to seasonal streams around San Francisco Bay, which the Bay needs to remain healthy.

“Today’s decision continues the court’s pattern of making up new law in order to consolidate power for itself and an increasingly activist judiciary. As Justice Kagan says in her dissent, we ‘have seen this move before.’ The Court rejects the plain text of the Clean Water Act, rejects current and long-standing expert regulatory interpretations of that text, and instead, creates a new standard to achieve its desired regulatory outcome.

“The EPA just last year issued an exhaustive, science-based guideline for which wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act. The decision the conservative activists on the Supreme Court delivered today masquerades as law, ignores established science, and will cause regulatory chaos and harm to waters and communities nationwide.”