SCOTUS Just Pulled The Rug Out From Under Biden

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously sided with Mike and Chantell Sackett in a longawaited ruling. The case Sackett v. EPA challenged the Environmental Protection Agencys broad authority to defineWaters of the United States and the EPAs argument that it had jurisdiction over private property ponds, puddles, and wetlands even on residentialzoned lots.

The ruling found that the EPAs expansive definition forwaters of the United States isinconsistent with the laws set forth in the Clean Water Act, and the law extends only towetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies of water that arewaters of the United States in their own right.

In 2004, the EPA blocked the Sacketts from completing a home on their Idaho lot of less than an acre and issued the Sacketts massive fines, claiming their land was awetland and was located near a navigable body of water. For the past 17 years, the Sacketts have been embroiled in a legal battle with the EPA, challenging the agencys expansive definition of anavigable waterway.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion,First, this Courtrequire[s] Congress to enact exceedingly clear language if it wishes to significantly alter the balance between federal and state power and the power of the Government over private property.

Alito continued to criticize the EPAs argument that its definition ofwaters of the United States potentially coversall body of water in the United States and is only prevented by itssignificant nexus test.Yet the boundary between asignificant and an insignificant nexus is far from clear, Alito wrote.And to add to the uncertainty, the test introduces another vague conceptsimilarly situated watersand then assesses the aggregate effect of that group based on a variety of openended factors that evolve as scientific understandings change.

This freewheeling inquiry provides little notice to landowners of their obligations under the CWA, Alito concluded.Facing severe criminal sanctions for even negligent violations, property owners areleftto feel their way on a casebycase basis.

The ruling is the second such loss for the EPA in as many years. Last year, the Supreme Court limited the agencys power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

With todays ruling, the Supreme Court has set a clear definition forwaters of the United States and for the EPAs jurisdiction over them. In addition, the ruling is expected to provide a template for future challenges to federal agencies who have used their alleged interpretative powers to expand their authority and jurisdiction.

At the end of the term in June, the Supreme Court is expected to hear another case challenging the Chevron doctrine which requires courts to defer to federal agencies on the definition of terms and interpretation of rules.

For Mike and Chantell Sackett, who have faced nearly two decades of legal battles with the EPA, todays ruling is a bittersweet victory.We are grateful for todays ruling, said Sackett.Its taken 19 years, but finally common sense has prevailed.


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