The Supreme Court weakens the EPA's powers to enforce the Clean Water Act (2023)

I hear

9 minutes



The Supreme Court reduced it on Thursdaythe Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate state wetlands, another step backwards for the agency's powers to combat air and water pollution.

It was about hitting sights The 51-year-old Clean Water Act and how courts should decide what qualifies as "United States waters" under the Act's protective provisions. Nearly two decades ago, the court ruled that wetlands were protected if they had a "significant connection" to nearby regulated bodies of water.

WP Get the full experience. Choose your design. arrow to the right

Sudac Samuel A. Alito Jr.,He wrote for himself and four other Court Conservatives, opposed that test and instituted a test that environmentalists say would eliminate millions of acres of environmentally sensitive land from federal regulations.

"We believe that the CWA extends only to those wetlands that have a continuous surface connection to bodies that are distinct 'United States waters' such that they are 'indistinguishable' from those waters," Alito wrote citing previous court precedents. views. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.

a D

(Video) Supreme Court decision weakens EPA authority, scales back scope of Clean Water Act

All judges agreed that federal regulators went too far in the case involving an Idaho couple's attempt to build a home near a lake. But rather than a narrow decision that said just that, the majority of judges sided with decades of efforts by property rights groups and companies to restrict regulations for wetlands and other areas directly connected to "navigable bodies of water" such as rivers and lakes.

Judge Elena Kagan disagreed on behalf of the court's liberals, saying her conservative peers showed the same zeal Thursday as they did last term in curtailing the EPA's ability to tackle climate change.

There, the majority "banned the EPA from combating climate change by limiting emissions from power plants in the most effective way." Here, this method prevents the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from keeping our country's waters clean by charging neighboring Wetlands regulated,” Kagan wrote along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

a D

"The damage is the same in both cases: the court has established itself as the national decision-maker for environmental policy."

All three justices joined Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who had the majority in the climate change case.

He wrote that the majority's new test "deviates from the text of the law, from 45 years of consistent agency practice, and from the precedent of this court" and would have "significant consequences for water quality and flood control throughout the United States." He cited levee systems along the Mississippi River and reclamation projects in the Chesapeake Bay as initiatives that could suffer from the new majority rules.

Jump to the end of the carousel

2023 Supreme Court decisions

The Supreme Court weakens the EPA's powers to enforce the Clean Water Act (1)The Supreme Court weakens the EPA's powers to enforce the Clean Water Act (2)

Over the next two months, the Supreme Court will announce decisions on all cases it has dealt with in this order.Here we follow the most important decisionsand why they are important.

(Video) Supreme Court rules against EPA on Clean Water Act case

end of the carousel

The decision affects one of EPA's most fundamental authorities, namely its ability to extend safeguards to upstream waters to protect drinking water quality and wildlife. That would prevent the agency from protecting up to 118 million acres of wetlands at the federal level, an area larger than mainland California, according to estimates by environmental firm Earthjustice.

a D

This will benefit farmers, homebuilders and other entrepreneurs, who may now have an easier time obtaining building permits, lawyers and trade groups said. It will likely force the Biden administration to abandon -- or at least resume -- an attempt it began in 2021 to resolve years of uncertainty with new definitions about the types of waterways that EPA rules can protect, and give more of that power to state governments and leave to lawyers and legal experts said.

"I don't see how they're going to get away with it," said attorney Rafe Petersen, who represents miners, offshore wind developers and others applying for EPA permits for Holland & Knight. "The Biden administration is really in trouble."

The impact will vary from state to state, said Jonathan H. Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, depending on how tightly those jurisdictions regulate wetlands and other issues.

a D

Administration officials called the decision a disappointment that undermines long-standing safeguards. And officials from both the EPA and White House said government attorneys would review the decision to determine President Biden's next steps.

In his statement, the President called it a "disappointing decision" that "will set our country back".

"Today's decision changes the legal framework that has protected America's waters for decades," Biden said. "It also goes against the science that affirms the critical role of wetlands in protecting our nation's streams, rivers and lakes from chemicals and pollutants that affect the health and well-being of children, families and communities."

(Video) The Supreme Court case that could upend the Clean Water Act

For the second time, the judges reviewed the plans of Michael and Chantell Sackett, who plan to build a home on their property near Priest Lake, one of the largest in Idaho. The EPA says the couple's 0.63-acre property has wetlands, which makes it subject to the CWA and allows the government to require permits and impose penalties for violations.

a D

Environmental advocates asked the courtretain government powers to protect and regulate waterwaysseverely affecting water quality downstream, and warned that developers would benefit from weaker regulations. Under Sacketts' proposed definition of the bill, about half of all wetlands and about 60 percent of streams would no longer be under federal protection.

Along with other legal observers, Petersen said the latest ruling could have far-reaching implications. Alito's ruling said the court required Congress to enact "extraordinarily clear language" about rules that could affect private property, which some legal scholars say adds a new level of scrutiny to other fundamental environmental standards to address air pollution and climate change could mean.

"This can be viewed as a challenge to almost all modern environmental regulation," said Sam Sankar, senior vice president of programs at Earthjustice, which filed evidence in the case on behalf of 18 Native American tribes. "Polluters will certainly interpret this as a sign that environmental legislation is open."

a D

Adler said he wasn't sure. "I don't think there is anything new" in Alito's request for a clear statement in the law, he said. However, he agreed that the court was skeptical about the agency's authority and a broad interpretation of the statute.

How the EPA Supreme Court ruling will affect America's wetlands and clean water

In a way, the court was repeating a decision it made 17 years ago when it was also divided on this issue. In this case,radish vs United States,Judge Antonin Scalia wrote for the four judges that only wetlands with a "continuous surface connection" to "relatively permanent" bodies of water could be regulated by law.

But the prevailing test inRapanoswas one of the now-retired judges Anthony M. Kennedy, who said there just had to be a "substantial connection" between the wetlands and the regulated waters.

Adler noted that none of the judges upheld the “substantive relationship” rule and the Alito test effectively replaces the Scalia test.

a D

(Video) Sackett v. EPA: How Will the U.S. Supreme Court Define “Waters of the United States?”

Alito hailed the Clean Water Act as a "huge success," but also said it could be a "powerful weapon" for federal regulators.

"Regulation of land and water use is at the heart of traditional governance," he wrote. “A broad interpretation of the scope of the CWA would undermine that authority. The area covered by wetlands alone is vast—more than the area of ​​California and Texas combined. And the breadth of the EPA's understanding of the "waters of the United States" is truly incredible."

Kagan said Alito's pronunciation was wrong. He said it "puts a thumbs on the scales for homeowners -- despite the fact that the law (that is, the one passed by Congress) aims to prevent homeowners from polluting the environment."

Cavanaugh said the majority misinterpreted the law's wording. Everyone agrees that wetlands bordering regulated water bodies are included, he said, but he envisions those bordering waters as well.

a D

For 45 years "and through all eight presidential administrations, the Army has done this."constantThe definition of "adjacent wetlands" includes not only wetlands adjacent to covered water, but also those wetlands that are separated from covered water by an artificial barrier or dam, natural river bed, beach dune, or the like," Kavanaugh wrote . Kagan, Sotomayor and Jackson agreed.

"We must not create confusion where there is none," Cavanaugh wrote. "And we cannot paraphrase 'adjacent' to mean the same thing as 'adjacent' as the court is doing today."

The Sacketts received local planning permission 15 years ago, with support from the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, to begin construction on their property, about 300 feet from the lake. Your property is bordered on two sides by streets and separated from the lake by a row of houses.

The EPA put the plans on hold,They threatened fines of more than $40,000 a day if the Sacketts didn't stop construction. The couple went to court to block the EPA's order, asking judges to narrow the definition of "United States waters" so that their land does not fall under the Clean Water Act.

The battle over which wetlands are subject to the CWA has raged for decades. First, the administration of George W. Bush Guidelines issued limiting the scope of the Clean Water Act 2003 iin 2008, after earlierSupreme Court decisions.

In 2015, the Obama administration expanded the scope of the law They even cover passing streams and ponds. North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska and other states promptly filed suits in federal court, resulting in a statewide stay in the Ohio federal appeals court. As the challenges dragged on and resulted in a series of disparate decisions, the Trump-era EPA repealed the rule andIn 2019, a new, weaker one emerged.

The Biden administration has tried to strike a balanceby reversing Trump-era rules and redefining EPA oversight to cover "traditional waterways," including interstate waterways and upstream water sources that affect the health and quality of those waterways.

It is the caseSackett gegen Environmental Protection Agency.

(Video) In Radical Ruling, Supreme Court Limits EPA's Power to Cut Carbon Emissions & Combat Climate Crisis


Did Supreme Court overturn Clean Water Act? ›

Supreme Court narrows scope of Clean Water Act The U.S. Supreme Court placed new restrictions on the scope of the jurisdiction the Clean Water Act has over wetlands, ruling in favor of Idaho landowners who had challenged the law.

What was the Supreme Court decision against the EPA? ›

In a 6-3 ruling last June powered by its conservative justices, it imposed limits on the EPA's authority to issue sweeping regulations involving greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal- and gas-fired power plants under a different environmental law, the Clean Air Act.

Does the EPA enforce the Clean Water Act? ›

EPA enforces requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). For more on EPA's enforcement process, go to basic information on enforcement.

How does the government enforce the Clean Water Act? ›

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the state's enforce violations of the Clean Water Act through civil enforcement and criminal prosecution.

Was the Clean Water Act a success or failure? ›

More than fifty years later, the Clean Water Act has funded approximately 35,000 grants totaling $1 trillion invested towards curbing water pollution. As a result, 700 billion pounds of pollution have been diverted from America's rivers and the number of waters that meet clean water goals has doubled since 1972.

Has the Clean Water Act been replaced? ›

The Biden administration on Friday issued a rule that defines which types of waterways in the U.S. will receive federal water quality protections under the 1972 Clean Water Act, repealing a Trump-era rule that federal courts rejected and that environmental groups argued left waterways open to pollution.

Has the EPA been passed? ›

President Richard Nixon proposed the establishment of EPA on July 9, 1970; it began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order. The order establishing the EPA was ratified by committee hearings in the House and Senate. Washington, D.C., U.S.

Has the EPA been effective? ›

From regulating auto emissions to banning the use of DDT; from cleaning up toxic waste to protecting the ozone layer; from increasing recycling to revitalizing inner-city brownfields, EPA's achievements have resulted in cleaner air, purer water, and better protected land.

What happened with EPA? ›

The Supreme Court curbed EPA's power to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. What comes next? July 19, 2022 – In late June, the Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot put state-level caps on carbon emissions under the 1970 Clean Air Act.

Which part of the government has authority to enforce the Clean Water Act? ›

EPA's primary enforcement authorities are set forth in CWA § 309. EPA is authorized under CWA § 309(a) to issue an order requiring a “person” to comply with specified CWA sections (including section 301, the prohibition against unpermitted discharges, or requirements of permits under section 402 or 404).

Does the EPA regulate the Clean Air Act? ›

Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA sets limits on certain air pollutants, including setting limits on how much can be in the air anywhere in the United States. The Clean Air Act also gives EPA the authority to limit emissions of air pollutants coming from sources like chemical plants, utilities, and steel mills.

Who enforces the Clean Air Act? ›

EPA regulates emissions of air pollution from mobile and stationary sources under the Clean Air Act (CAA). For more on EPA's enforcement process, go to Basics on enforcement.

How does the EPA enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act? ›

Under the SDWA, EPA sets the standards for drinking water quality and monitors states, local authorities, and water suppliers who enforce those standards. As part of the SDWA, EPA has set maximum contaminant levels, as well as treatment requirements for over 90 different contaminants in public drinking water.

Which part of the government has authority to enforce the Clean Water Act quizlet? ›

CWA authorizes EPA to enforce this policy. This policy prohibits the deterioration of water bodies when their quality equals or exceeds levels necessary to attain water quality standards.

Why did the government pass the Clean Water Act? ›

Public outcry over dirty rivers spurred Congress to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972. The historic law was designed to protect all of our waters – from the smallest streams to the mightiest rivers – from pollution and destruction.

What is the biggest problem with the Clean Water Act? ›

Shortcomings of the Clean Water Act and its Implementation

Beyond its language, the Clean Water Act fails to regulate “nonpoint source pollution,” or pollution that doesn't come from a discrete location, such as agricultural runoff.

What are the problems with the Clean Water Act? ›

The Clean Water Act has also never adequately addressed our most significant remaining source of pollution problems: non-point sources. Non-point sources include the indirect discharge of polluted runoff from fields and lawns, paved areas and clear-cuts, septic tanks and abandoned mines.

How many times has the Clean Water Act been violated? ›

Records analyzed by The Times indicate that the Clean Water Act has been violated more than 506,000 times since 2004, by more than 23,000 companies and other facilities, according to reports submitted by polluters themselves.

What is the current status of the Clean Water Act? ›

The 2015 Clean Water Rule was repealed by the 2019 Rule, which reinstated the 1980s regulations, implemented consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court cases and applicable guidance.

When was the last time the Clean Water Act was updated? ›

The 1972 legislation spelled out ambitious programs for water quality improvement that have since been expanded and are still being implemented by industries, municipalities, and others. Congress made fine-tuning amendments in 1977, revised portions of the law in 1981, and enacted further amendments in 1987 and 2014.

How can the Clean Water Act be more effective? ›

According to Andreen, the Clean Water Act could also be adapted to fit changing conditions by:
  1. Ensuring enough water stays in rivers and streams to support their biological functioning. ...
  2. Improving investments in water infrastructure, which is aging and serving a growing population.
Aug 20, 2015

What did Biden do with EPA? ›

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced more than $315 million from President Biden's Investing in America Agenda to expedite the assessment and cleanup of brownfield sites across the country while advancing environmental justice.

Is the EPA still necessary? ›

There's still much more to be done on lead, air pollution, toxic chemicals, and especially climate change. We need a strong EPA to do those things. We must give the EPA the support it needs to keep our air, water, and climate clean and healthy.

Does the EPA have any power? ›

The EPA can then formulate rules within the purview of that delegated power. Those EPA rules then carry the force of law—but they can still be overturned by a Congressional law, because Congress remains the higher power. This kind of delegation is basically how all executive or independent agencies get power.

Why is the EPA being sued? ›

(Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has for years failed to approve a plan to reduce soot in the Los Angeles area that could reduce the public's health risk, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by environmental groups.

Why did the EPA repeal the clean power plan? ›

First, the EPA is repealing the Clean Power Plan (CPP) because the Agency has determined that the CPP exceeded the EPA's statutory authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

What has the EPA done recently? ›

EPA Announces FY 2022 Enforcement and Compliance Accomplishments. Taken together, OECA's criminal, civil, and administrative enforcement cases reduced, treated or eliminated pollutants by 95 million pounds and required violators to pay over $300 million in penalties, fines and restitution.

What has the EPA banned? ›

Six chemical substances receive special attention under TSCA: PCBs, asbestos, radon, lead, mercury, and formaldehyde.

Who has sued the EPA? ›

It is the result of lawsuits filed against EPA during the Trump Administration by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and its partners including Anne Arundel County, the Maryland Watermen's Association, and Robert Whitescarver and Jeanne Hoffman.

Did the Supreme Court limit Biden's emissions policy? ›

WASHINGTON, June 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday imposed limits on the federal government's authority to issue sweeping regulations to reduce carbon emissions from power plants in a ruling that undermines President Joe Biden's plans to tackle climate change and could constrain various agencies on ...

Who was responsible for the Clean Water Act? ›

The Johnson administration usually gets the credit for these bills, but the Clean Waters Restoration Act was far more ambitious than what the president had requested. The real impetus for the law came from the Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution, chaired by Maine senator Edmund Muskie.

Is the Clean Water Act command and control? ›

Just two years later, in 1972, Congress passed and the president signed the far-reaching Clean Water Act. These command-and-control environmental laws, and their amendments and updates, have been largely responsible for cleaner air and water in the United States in recent decades.

Is the Clean Water Act in the Constitution? ›

Like every law of the land, the Clean Water Act (CWA) finds its legal basis in the United States Constitution. The Commerce Clause, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to regulate intra and interstate commerce.

What powers of enforcement does the EPA have? ›

EPA has explicit authority to enforce the law and assess fines at federal facilities violating environmental statutes including the: Clean Air Act. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

Do states enforce the Clean Air Act? ›

State Implementation Plans

While the act authorizes EPA to set NAAQS, the states are responsible for establishing procedures to attain and maintain the standards.

Has the Clean Air Act been successful? ›

The Clean Air Act has proven a remarkable success. In its first 20 years, more than 200,000 premature deaths and 18 million cases of respiratory illness in children were prevented.

When was the Clean Air Act still enforced? ›

Introduction. Clean Air Act of 1970. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.

When was Clean Water Act passed? ›

Fifty years ago, the Congress passed the Clean Water Act of 1972, revolutionizing America's responsibility to protect and restore the vital waterways that sustain our communities, our economy, and our ecosystems.

Has the Safe Drinking Water Act been effective? ›

Effectiveness of the SDWA

In large part, thanks to the SDWA and other regulatory actions by the EPA, the quality of drinking water in the United States has improved steadily throughout the last 40 years.

Has the Safe Drinking Water Act been successful? ›

While the SDWA has provided many safeguards against drinking water contamination over the last 45 years, potential threats to the health and safety of our drinking water supplies remain, including unregulated contaminants, deteriorating water infrastructure, and oversight failures.

Why does the EPA monitor water quality? ›

The data generated from these monitoring activities help water resource managers know where pollution problems exist, where to focus pollution control energies and where progress has been made.

What law enforces water regulation in the United States? ›

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the main federal law that ensures the quality of Americans' drinking water. Under SDWA, EPA sets standards for drinking water quality and oversees the states, localities, and water suppliers who implement those standards.

Which of the following has been significantly decreased due to regulations from the Clean Water Act? ›

The Clean Water Act has decreased measures of water pollution in U.S. lakes, streams and rivers.

Is the Clean Water Act regulatory incentive or voluntary? ›

Because the Clean Water Act addresses nonpoint source pollution largely through voluntary means, EPA does not have direct authority to compel landowners to take prescribed actions to reduce such pollution.

When was the Clean Water Act repealed? ›

The 2015 Clean Water Rule was repealed by the 2019 Rule, which reinstated the 1980s regulations, implemented consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court cases and applicable guidance.

What happened with the Clean Water Act? ›

Growing public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution led to sweeping amendments in 1972. As amended in 1972, the law became commonly known as the Clean Water Act (CWA). The 1972 amendments: Established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges into the waters of the United States.

What was the Supreme Court decision 9 0 2023? ›

Supreme Court's 9-0 Ruling Paves Way for Constitutional Challenges to Administrative Proceedings. The U.S. Supreme Court on April 14, 2023, issued a unanimous opinion holding that federal district courts can consider constitutional challenges to administrative proceedings before such agencies issue final rulings.

What happened to the clean water rule? ›

The rule took effect on March 20, 2023. However, on May 25, 2023, the restored policy would again be rolled back after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA cannot regulate waters in the United States which have been isolated from larger bodies of water.

How many times has the Clean Water Act been amended? ›

Congress changed the act six times before completely rewriting it in the 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments. Today the statute is commonly known as the Clean Water Act and bears little resemblance to its 948 ancestor.

What is the new Clean Water Act? ›

The CWA is the principle law governing pollution control and water quality of the Nation's waterways. The object of the CWA is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation's waters (33 U.S.C. 1251).

Why was the Clean Water Act unsuccessful? ›

But while the Clean Water Act effectively targeted “point sources” of pollution, such as factories and sewage plants, it didn't include strong controls for “non-point sources,” such as farm field runoff. And over the past 50 years, farming—especially animal agriculture—has changed dramatically.

What was controversial about the Clean Water Act? ›

The newly covered waters often came into conflict with private property. Some farmers and business interests found themselves occasionally limited in what crops they could plant, or what practices they could follow, next to what they saw as unimportant streams or wetlands.

What has the Supreme Court done in 2023? ›

The justices will deliver rulings on race, immigration, and LGBTQ rights.

What cases has the Supreme Court heard in 2023? ›

The biggest upcoming Supreme Court cases in 2023
  • Arellano v. McDonough. Aldolfo Arellano served in the navy for four years from 1977 to 1981. ...
  • 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. Lorie Smith is the owner of the graphic design website, 303 Creative LLC. ...
  • Moore v. Harper. ...
  • Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. ...
  • Sackett v. EPA.
Apr 12, 2023

What is Rule 9 of the US Supreme Court? ›

An attorney representing a party who will not be filing a document shall enter a separate notice of appearance as counsel of record indicating the name of the party represented. A separate notice of appearance shall also be entered whenever an attorney is substituted as counsel of record in a particular case.


1. Will the Supreme Court Send the Clean Water Act Downstream?
(Ethic TV)
2. Sackett v. EPA: What the Decision Means
(Western Ag Network)
3. How bad is the Supreme Court's EPA ruling? | Engadget Podcast
4. Three Minute Legal Talks: Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency
(UW School of Law)
5. SCOTUS Chicanery Strikes Again | Mark Joseph Stern | TMR
(The Majority Report w/ Sam Seder)
6. No, the Supreme Court did not overturn the Clean Water Act


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Errol Quitzon

Last Updated: 10/28/2023

Views: 6444

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (79 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Errol Quitzon

Birthday: 1993-04-02

Address: 70604 Haley Lane, Port Weldonside, TN 99233-0942

Phone: +9665282866296

Job: Product Retail Agent

Hobby: Computer programming, Horseback riding, Hooping, Dance, Ice skating, Backpacking, Rafting

Introduction: My name is Errol Quitzon, I am a fair, cute, fancy, clean, attractive, sparkling, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.