WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments of a case between Idaho landowners and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a dispute that could redefine the scope of the country’s clean water regulations.
The first case of the justices’ new term, landing just ahead of the Clean Water Act’s 50th anniversary, will feature arguments about wetlands and when they can or cannot be regulated by the federal government.
A federal court, siding with the U.S. government, ruled that the wetlands on the Sacketts’ property contained a “significant nexus” with other regulated waters, meaning the couple would need authorization to build there.
The Sacketts are now urging the Supreme Court to discard the “significant nexus” threshold. Instead, their petition favors a separate test from former Justice Antonin Scalia that called for the waters to have a “continuous surface water connection” — a higher threshold that would apply to fewer wetlands.
The stakes of this case, however, go far beyond one property dispute. It attracted briefs from environmental groups, which argue that it would hamper the government’s ability to keep people safe from pollution. Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the case that could “gut our ability to protect wetlands and other waters. It’s a threat to the clean water our communities depend on for drinking, swimming, fishing and other uses.”
Industries like ranching, farming, mining, construction and oil and gas, which support the deregulatory effort. They argue that legal confusion over the definition of “waters of the United States,” or WOTUS, has created regulatory chaos for businesses and property owners.