The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in the long-running fight over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule and whether standing bodies of water, sinkholes, or other wetlands require EPA permits under the Clean Water Act.
The case, known as Sackett v. EPA, specifically involves regulations of “navigable bodies of water” to protect drinking water supplies. Those regulations have included ditches, drainages and low spots on farmlands and pastures, as well as lands that are being developed for residential properties.
The enforcement of those regulations, as well as a specific and universal definition of “navigable bodies of water”, have varied recently from one Presidential administration to the next. The lack of clear rules on clean water has caused some confusion and frustration.
The WOTUS rule allows the federal government to fine landowners $37,000 dollars a day or file felony charges and threaten jail time against those who are deemed by the EPA to be violators of the rule.
The background for the Supreme Court case started in 2004 when Michael and Chantall Sackett decided to build a home on a residential lot that they own near Priest Lake, Idaho. However, shortly after they began construction, the EPA shut them down and told them their property contained wetlands that qualify as “navigable waters” regulated by the Clean Water Act. The EPA ordered the Sacketts to end construction plans and restore the property to its natural state.
During oral arguments in the case on Monday, the liberal Justices, including newest member Ketanji Brown-Jackson, seemed to side with the government’s interest in protecting the environment, while conservatives asked questions about the rule regarding the uncertainty if and when landowners need a permit.
“So, if the federal government doesn’t know, how is a person subject to criminal time in federal prison, supposed to know,” asked Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch while the case was being argued.
The Supreme Court’s decision on Sackett v. EPA, which will ultimately impact the direction of what happens with the EPA’s WOTUS rule and its effect on landowners and farmers, is expected early next year.
Sources: American Farm Bureau Federation, NAFB News Service.