Supreme Court strikes blow at key Biden environmental policy in unanimous decision

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a decision restricting the federal government’s authority to regulate bodies of water and effectively reversing a Biden administration policy that recently took effect.

The unanimous 9-0 High Court decision, which was handed down by Judge Samuel Alito, rejected the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) broad definition of waters in the United States (WOTUS). The case centered on Michael and Chantall Sackett, two Idaho residents who were banned by the EPA from building a home near a wetland years ago, citing the Clean Waters Act (CWA) of 1972. .

“The EPA ordered the Sacketts to restore the site, threatening fines of more than $40,000 a day,” Alito’s majority opinion said. “The EPA classified the wetlands on the Sacketts lot as ‘U.S. waters’ because they were near a ditch that fed a creek, which fed into Priest Lake, a navigable intrastate lake. . The Sacketts sued, alleging that their property was not “United States waters”.

The decision ultimately ruled that the federal government’s WOTUS definition must be limited to a water source with a “continuous surface connection” to major water bodies.

Although the decision was unanimous on the merits, the court was split 5-4 on how the federal government should proceed to define water sources.


Joe Biden, Michael Regan

President Biden speaks with EPA Administrator Michael Regan at a White House event on environmental justice. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“Understanding that the CWA applies to wetlands that are distinct from “waters of the United States” otherwise covered would greatly expand [existing statute] define “navigable waters” as “the waters of the United States and adjacent wetlands,” Alito wrote.

The decision, which was applauded by Republican lawmakers and groups representing landowners, comes months after the EPA finalized and implemented a new WOTUS rule.


On December 30, the last business day of 2022, the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers quietly announced that they had approved the WOTUS regulations and that it would be implemented in March. After announcing it, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the rule “protects our nation’s waters.”

The rule opened the door for the federal government to regulate “relatively permanent” wetlands, lakes, ponds, streams and waterways, largely mimicking a pre-2015 environmental rule established under the Obama administration that implemented the changes in a efforts to combat water pollution. The regulation was the broadest interpretation to date of water sources requiring protection under the CWA.

President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on April 24. (Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Industry groups, Republican lawmakers in Congress and several states blasted the regulation as an example of federal overreach and demanded it be reversed. In April, a federal judge granted a request by 24 states and several trade groups to suspend implementation of the regulations. And the House and Senate both approved a settlement rejecting the settlement.


“Today the Supreme Court sent a loud and clear warning shot to the Biden administration over its attempts to overregulate the lives of millions of Americans,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va. , Member of the Senate for the Environment and Public Works Commission.

“In rejecting the ‘significant connection’ test, the Court shielded American farmers, ranchers, builders and landowners from excesses under the Clean Water Act, and held that President Biden’s recent WOTUS rule was going too far,” added Capito. “I was proud to both support the petitioners in this case last year and to lead a successful effort this year in Congress to overturn the Biden WOTUS rule, and I am thrilled with the Court’s decision today, which is a major victory for individual liberty.”

Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., said the court ruled in favor of “the Constitution, the American people and our freedoms” and called on the EPA to formally rescind its WOTUS regulations.

The Waters Advocacy Coalition, a group representing farmers, applauded the Supreme Court for preserving water protections while providing clarity for farmers and landowners.

“The Court’s opinion also upends the Biden administration’s excessive WOTUS rule,” the group said. “After decades of attempts to extend federal government power over private lands, job creators and American farmers can continue with greater certainty in providing the essential services our economy depends on, from growing food healthy to building affordable homes and producing home energy.”

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