Supreme Court rules against clean water and wetlands

BHA maintains that wetlands and other waters with a significant connection to traditional navigable waters should retain the protections of the Clean Water Act

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled against clean water and wetlands, narrowing the interpretations for the test that determines the Clean Water Act’s protections under so-called “waters of the United States.” Yesterday’s ruling in favor of the plaintiff in Sackett against the Environmental Protection Agency removes safeguards for nearly all wetlands in the country and dramatically reduces EPA’s authority to protect other wetlands and waterways that provide valuable habitat for fish and life. wild.

The Clean Water Act was enacted to restore and maintain the quality of U.S. waters and wetlands. In part, it regulates the discharge of pollutants into “navigable waters,” which are broadly defined as “the waters of the United States”. By restricting protections for waters to only those with a “continuous surface connection,” the Supreme Court dramatically reversed course in previous rulings that had protected any wetlands with a “significant nexus.” Many of these wetlands are connected to stream heads and systems that provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife, such as the beach lakes in the Southwest and the prairie potholes region of the Midwest that is the “duck factory” of North America.

In 2022, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers joined groups including the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Izaak Walton League, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Association and Trout Unlimited to file an amicus curiae brief in the Sackett case. Together, those groups, representing millions of hunters, fishermen, national park advocates and outdoor recreationists, argue that wetlands with a significant connection to traditional navigable waters should be included in the Clean Water Act’s protections. They also contend that the plaintiffs’ proposed interpretation of the landmark law is based on a misreading of the law’s text, structure, and purpose.

“This Supreme Court ruling is a punch in the stomach for fish and wildlife and for the American people who have just lost clean water protections for most wetlands across the country,” said John Gale, BHA vice president of policy and government relations. “Instead of seizing the opportunity to ensure greater certainty for wetland systems and ephemeral and intermittent streams often connected to wetland complexes through surface and subsurface flows, the court has ensured future litigation and increased vulnerability for migratory birds, cold-water fisheries, and millions of people who want cleaner, safer drinking water.

“For half a century, our nation has enjoyed a bipartisan commitment to wetland protections and the Clean Water Act,” Gale stated. “The court’s decision has unraveled that legacy and eroded proven safeguards.”

The groups’ amicus brief describes how the narrow interpretation proposed by Sackett would subject most wetlands in the United States to industrial pollution without penalty and that state protections would not make up for the loss of federal protections. He outlines how reducing Clean Water Act coverage would have devastating effects on wetlands, rivers and streams, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities for millions of hunters, fishermen, and recreationists.

Healthy rivers, streams, and waterways are an integral part of the health of America’s public lands. The loss of clean water protections could have significant economic consequences for outdoor recreation, which supports $788 billion in consumer spending and more than 5 million jobs in the United States. More than 50 million Americans fished in 2019, with fishing and hunting contributing $200 billion to the American economy.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the voice
for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife

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