Jill Ryan, Executive Director, Freshwater Future
Press Statement from Freshwater Future
Sackett v. EPA : Supreme Court Ruling is a Blow to Clean Water Protections
May 26, 2023 (Petoskey, MI) – Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued two extremely consequential rulings in Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will harm the federal government’s ability to protect crucial wetlands and streams that keep water clean by filtering pollutants, maintaining biodiversity, and controlling flooding.
Fifteen years ago, the U.S. EPA intervened when the Sacketts started to fill in the wetlands on their undeveloped private property. The U.S. EPA argued that this violated the Clean Water Act, which protects wetlands and streams that connect to navigable bodies of water. By unanimously siding with the Sacketts, the Supreme Court undermines long-standing protections of adjacent waters across the nation, as originally intended by Congress in the Clean Water Act.
This decision includes another ruling, where a conservative 5-4 majority further limited the scope of protections offered by the Clean Water Act. It immediately changes the test that determines whether wetlands are protected as “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS). This case was decided by a limited and narrow interpretation of the word “adjacent,” which even Judge Kavanaugh opposed. At a time of worsening droughts and intensive storms, it will now be harder than ever to protect our waters.
Jill Ryan, Executive Director of Freshwater Future, stated, “Wetlands are critical resources for reducing flooding, filtering pollutants and providing critical areas for fish and wildlife to reproduce. In our Great Lakes region, this decision jeopardizes billions of dollars spent on restoring our waters and wetlands, puts homeowners at increased risk of flooding, and threatens the multi-billion dollar industries of fishing, wildlife viewing and recreation.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling undermines the nation’s ability to mitigate climate change, which poses unique harms for Indigenous communities, communities of color, and those most vulnerable to pollution and intensifying climate disasters. Although this decision officially overturns the recently updated and strengthened WOTUS regulation, it is still possible to protect these fragile and integral ecosystems that keep our water clean and accessible through stronger state-level protections.