Supreme Court limits regulation of some US wetlands, making it easier to develop and destroy them

Supreme Court limits regulation of some US wetlands, making it easier to develop and destroy them

The Supreme Court is curtailing the federal government’s power to protect some wetlands

Supreme Court Wetlands

FILE – Michael and Chantell Sackett of Priest Lake, Idaho, pose for a photo in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on Oct. 14, 2011. The Supreme Court on Thursday, May 25, 2023, made it harder for the federal government to police water pollution in a decision that strips protections from wetlands that are isolated from larger bodies of water. The justices boosted property rights over concerns about clean water in a ruling in favor of an Idaho couple who sought to build a house near Priest Lake in the state’s panhandle. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)The Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court has stripped federal agencies of authority over millions of acres of wetlands, weakening a bedrock environmental law enacted a half-century ago to cleanse the country’s badly polluted waters.

A 5-4 majority significantly expanded the ability of farmers, homebuilders and other developers to dig up or fill wetlands near rivers, lakes and streams, finding the government had long overreached in limiting such activities.

The ruling Thursday may nullify key parts of a rule the Biden administration imposed in December, which two federal judges already had blocked from being enforced in 26 states. It’s the latest turn in a decades-old struggle by courts and regulators to determine which waters are subject to protection under the Clean Water Act.

Some experts say the battle over wetlands now may shift to states, with red and blue states writing laws that take dramatically different approaches.

The high court's decision follows one in 2022 curtailing federal power to reduce carbon emissions from power plants and indicates a willingness by the court’s emboldened conservatives to limit environmental laws and agency powers.

“This is one of the saddest chapters in the 50-year history of the Clean Water Act,” said Jim Murphy, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation.

Industry and farm groups praised the ruling.

“We’re absolutely thrilled with the results,” said Travis Cushman, deputy general counsel for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “This is the exact answer that we’ve been asking for for a long time.”

The court's majority sided with an Idaho couple who sought to build a house near Priest Lake in the state’s panhandle. Chantell and Michael Sackett objected when federal officials identified a soggy portion of the property as a wetland requiring them to get a permit before filling it with rocks and soil.

“Now that the case is finally over … they'll be able to make reasonable use of their property,” said Damien Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented the couple.

While all nine justices agreed the Sacketts' property was not covered by the law, they disagreed over the definition of “waters of the United States” and which wetlands it includes.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, echoed a 2006 opinion by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. It said federally protected wetlands must be directly adjacent to a “relatively permanent” waterway “connected to traditional interstate navigable waters” such as a river or ocean.

They also must have a “continuous surface connection with that water, making it difficult to determine where the ‘water’ ends and the ‘wetland’ begins,” Alito wrote.

The court jettisoned a 17-year-old opinion by their former colleague, Anthony Kennedy, describing covered wetlands as having a “significant nexus” to larger bodies of water. It had been the standard for evaluating whether permits were required for discharges under the 1972 landmark environmental law. Opponents had objected that the standard was vague and unworkable.

Justice Elena Kagan, one of three liberals on the court, said the majority rewrote the law to reach the political decision it wanted by coming up with new ways to curtail environmental protection powers Congress gave the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The court will not allow the Clean (Water) Act to work as Congress instructed,” Kagan wrote. “The court, rather than Congress, will decide how much regulation is too much.”

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the decision “erodes longstanding clean water protections” and the agency was considering its options.

The Biden administration regulations replaced a Trump-era rule that federal courts had thrown out and environmentalists said left waterways vulnerable to pollution.

Even after the latest court ruling, some experts said ambiguities remain – and likely will persist as the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers craft yet more regulations tailored to the court’s edicts.

Landowners wishing to develop property near waterways will still need to hire consultants, “walk the land and figure out whether you’re in or out” of federal reach, Boston real estate attorney Peter Alpert said. “There’s still going to be a lot of doubt about what’s in the gray area.”

The ruling could scuttle protections for at least 45 million acres of wetlands, an area roughly the size of Florida, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“They just put huge swaths of wetlands at risk,” said Kelly Moser, an attorney with the center.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the majority likely stripped protections from wetlands that were long considered regulated, including those behind levees along the flood-prone Mississippi River.

Despite their vital role in blocking flood waters and filtering out pollutants, those wetlands may lose protection because they aren’t directly connected to the river, he said in an opinion that concurred on the Sackett case but disagreed significantly with the majority on the broader issues.

The ruling will have a big impact in the arid Southwest, where some rivers and streams dry up between infrequent rainstorms, experts said. The court majority said the Clean Water Act protects only wetlands connected to rivers and streams that are “relatively permanent” or “continuous.”

“Continuous is a big deal because we don’t have water, really, for 10 months of the year,” said Maureen Gorsen, a California environment and regulatory attorney.

The ruling might lead some developers to decide they don't need to seek permits for projects that could disturb wetlands, said Jim Murphy, director of legal advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation.

And those who are discussing settlements for wetland damage or building new ones to compensate for losses might back out, said Alpert, the Boston attorney.

“Everybody involved in enforcement actions … is going to hit the pause button on negotiations with agencies right now and question with their consultants whether under this decision there is a reason to even be talking with the government,” he said.

Environmental advocates will prod Congress and states to “plug some of the gaps that have been created by this decision,” Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation said.

But Congress showed in March it is in no mood to do so, voting to overturn the administration's wetlands rules and prompting a veto from President Joe Biden.

State governments may become another battleground. More than a dozen prohibit environmental regulations tougher than federal ones.

“You're going to see a patchwork of regulation depending on what state you are in,” said Ashley Peck, an environmental attorney in Salt Lake City.

The Supreme Court ruling will likely create “‘red state’ and ‘blue state’ approaches to water protection,” said Cara Horowitz of the UCLA School of Law.


Reporters Mark Sherman and Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this story.


The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit

News Related


DBSV gauges impact of proposed tax hike Brokerage urges smaller stocks

A trader watches the board at a stock brokerage on Sathon Road in Bangkok. DBSV believes a proposed corporate tax hike would affect large-cap stocks listed on the SET 50. Pornprom ... Read more »

How can Hongkongers benefit from e-HKD? Consumers can draw comfort from its security, higher returns and even offline payments

Sixteen banks and payment companies have rolled out dozens of experiments among small groups of consumers using e-HKD, under the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s (HKMA) broader plan to introduce a ... Read more »

PetSmart becomes latest company to face backlash over Pride merchandise

Another brand-name company is facing backlash over LGBTQ merchandise and promotions. Some social media users recently aimed their ire at PetSmart for boasting about its all-new “You Are Loved” collection ... Read more »

Singapore shares kick off week on dour note, STI down 0.4%

SINGAPORE – The local stock market ended the first trading day of the week lower, as traders remained cautious despite news of a tentative US debt-ceiling deal. The benchmark Straits ... Read more »

Dalian Wanda bond prices rise after Chinese conglomerate says creditors have not sought early repayment of loans worth US$1.3 billion

Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda’s dollar bonds jumped to a new high on Monday after it said creditors of loans worth US$1.3 billion had not demanded early repayments following the failed ... Read more »

Even with a tentative US debt ceiling deal, Washington needs reform or the dollar will suffer

US President Joe Biden has reportedly struck a tentative deal with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to hopefully avoid a devastating debt default before the government runs out of money ... Read more »

House GOP hardliners trash debt limit bill as party leaders try to shore up votes

WASHINGTON — The race is on for congressional leaders to secure the votes to pass a bipartisan compromise struck by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to avert ... Read more »

Debt ceiling live updates: 'Large majority' of Democrats 'in flux' on the deal, progressive rep. says

Latest developments on the debt ceiling deal: President Joe Biden on Sunday announced a debt ceiling deal that he said would avoid a “catastrophic default” by the federal government while ... Read more »

Inmates eagerly await fraudster Elizabeth Holmes ahead of prison arrival: ‘I want to be her friend’

Convicted Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes’s likely arrival at a federal prison in Texas on Tuesday has some inmates reportedly ready to greet her with open arms. Holmes, convicted on four ... Read more »

Firm accused of making over 7.5 billion robocalls hit with suit: ‘Americans are sick and tired’

Attorneys general across the U.S. joined in a lawsuit against a telecommunications company accused of making more than 7.5 billion robocalls to people on the national Do Not Call Registry. ... Read more »

What's in the debt limit bill? Key provisions in the Biden-McCarthy deal to avert default

WASHINGTON — The bipartisan deal struck by Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy extends the debt limit for two years alongside modest federal spending cuts and ... Read more »

Megyn Kelly blasts ‘Always’ for calling women ‘bodies with female sex organs’ in puberty pamphlet

Always, the feminine hygiene product maker, was blasted by Megyn Kelly for referring to women as “bodies with female sex organs” in a pamphlet titled “Always’ Puberty and Confidence Guide ... Read more »

Beverly Hills voters reject swanky Rodeo Drive hotel bid by world’s richest man Bernard Arnault

Bernard Arnault, the world’s richest man, has given up on plans to build a luxury hotel on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills after locals voted down the proposal over fears ... Read more »

Trust expands product offerings in bid to become S’pore’s 4th-largest bank

SINGAPORE – Digital bank Trust has launched its latest product as part of a broader plan to expand and position itself by end-2024 to become Singapore’s fourth-largest retail bank by ... Read more »

4 dead after tourist boat capsizes in storm on Italian lake

4 dead after tourist boat capsizes in storm on Italian lake Italian firefighters say that they have recovered four bodies from a northern Italian lake after a tourist boat capsized ... Read more »

3 ways to pay for your summer vacation

3 ways to pay for your summer vacation Summer can be an expensive time to travel FILE – People pass through Salt Lake City International Airport Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, ... Read more »

Tie-ups with big companies to give deep-tech start-ups a boost

SINGAPORE -Singapore’s entrepreneurs and start-ups in the deep-tech sector – which includes medical and clean technology – can draw on new collaborations with big corporations to bring their technology to ... Read more »

Elon Musk expected to visit China this week, meet senior officials: report

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk is expected to visit China this week, three people with knowledge of the matter said, in what would be his first trip to the country ... Read more »

Krungsri Auto aiming for one-third of EV loan market

Ms Chayathip says rising interest rates would not impact the company’s auto loan growth this year. Krungsri Auto, a leader in automotive finance under the Bank of Ayudhya, wants to ... Read more »

Commerce Ministry keeps export growth target Uncertainty over health of US and Chinese economies remains a wild card

Container ships are berthed at Laem Chabang Port in Chon Buri. (Bangkok Post file photo) The Ministry of Commerce still believes the country’s exports will grow by 1% to 2% ... Read more »

Grab co-founder stepping aside Tan Hooi Ling to remain an adviser as super-app firm continues quest for profitability

Grab co-founders Tan Hooi Ling (right) and Anthony Tan (left) join Robert McCooey, CEO of Nasdaq Asia Pacific, to celebrate the first trading day of Grab shares on the Nasdaq ... Read more »

Germany economy shrinks in first quarter, signaling one definition of recession

Germany economy shrinks in first quarter, signaling one definition of recession The German economy has shrunk unexpectedly in the first three months of this year, marking the second quarter of ... Read more »

Stock market today: Asian shares extend losses, while Japan's Nikkei pushes higher

Stock market today: Asian shares extend losses, while Japan's Nikkei pushes higher Shares are mostly lower in Asia after worries about the U.S. economy pulled Wall Street lower Some people ... Read more »

Veteran analyst Chen Li of Soochow Securities is optimistic about Hong Kong stocks, says prices yet to reflect improved earnings outlook

Veteran analyst Chen Li has become upbeat about Hong Kong stocks, the worst-performing major equity market globally in May, as current prices are yet to reflect an improving outlook for ... Read more »

Fitch lifts Hong Kong banking sector’s outlook to ‘improving’ from ‘neutral’, citing strengthening economic recovery

Fitch Ratings revised its outlook for Hong Kong’s banking sector from “neutral” to “improving” to reflect banks’ stronger earnings prospects in the second half of this year. Analysts at the ... Read more »

Energy price cap latest: Bill payers warned they won't save money this winter; people in credit advised to call energy provider

The energy price cap will fall significantly from July, to £2,074, but bill payers have been warned they won't save much money this winter. Listen to the latest Ian King Business Podcast as you scroll. Read more »

State lawmakers want children to fill labor shortages, even in bars and on school nights

State lawmakers want children to fill labor shortages, even in bars and on school nights Some state lawmakers are looking to loosen child labor laws, even as the federal government ... Read more »

TAT upbeat on arrivals in low season

TAT on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding on boosting net zero tourism between TAT, the Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization, and Thairath. (Photo supplied) The Tourism Authority of Thailand ... Read more »

Georgia nuclear rebirth arrives 7 years late, $17B over cost

Georgia nuclear rebirth arrives 7 years late, $17B over cost The first new U.S. nuclear reactor built from scratch in decades has begun generating electricity FILE – Reactors for Unit ... Read more »

Towngas’ Peter Lee sees opportunities in Saudi Arabia’s green economy, seeks roles in sectors like energy technology and storage

Hong Kong business magnate Peter Lee Ka-kit is betting on Saudi Arabia’s green economy as his power-to-property conglomerate rolls out partnerships, cooperation, and investment in sectors such as energy technology ... Read more »
Kênh kiến thức kỹ năng, phát triển bản thân, hướng nghiệp, blog nhân sự