On May 25, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a favorable opinion in the much-anticipated WOTUS case, Sackett v. EPA. The justices held that “waters” refers only to geographical features that are described in ordinary terms as “streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes” and to adjacent wetlands that are “indistinguishable” from those bodies of water due to a continuous surface connection, making it difficult to determine where the “water” ends and the “wetland” begins.
For more than half a century, the agencies responsible for enforcing the Clean Water Act (EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) have wrestled with the problem of defining the term “waters of the United States” and its jurisdictional reach over wetlands. Before this ruling, the Supreme Court has tried three rotimes to clarify the meaning of WOTUS, adopting varying interpretations.
The holding is a clear win for farmers and landowners, as it seeks to resolve the recurring question of what wetlands are to be considered WOTUS and significantly limits the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction, especially over isolated wetlands such as prairie potholes; all nine justices rejected as “implausible” the agencies’ use of the flawed and expansive “significant nexus test.” Notably, the court considered due process arguments, outlining the importance of landowners’ ability to identify a WOTUS without hiring costly experts, working through a long and arduous agency process, or facing severe civil and criminal penalties for not knowing the jurisdictional status of their property.
The holding firmly states that the interpretation of WOTUS in EPA and the Corps’ March 2023 rulemaking is inconsistent with the text and structure of the Clean Water Act. As such, ASA urges the agencies to quickly rescind and replace the newest rule with one better aligned with the court’s opinion.
Numerous farm groups submitted an amicus brief to the court arguing for this outcome and have been active throughout the agencies’ rulemakings, including voicing strong opposition to the 2023 rule. Read the opinion here.
“The Supreme Court’s historical decision to define the limits of EPA authority under the Clean Water Act is a tremendous victory for America’s pork producers who have played a leading role for almost two decades in opposing the agency’s heavy-handed efforts to micromanage our farms. This ruling is a clear punctuation point after decades of attempts by activists and the EPA to expand the federal government’s power and control over private land,” said Duane Stateler, NPPC vice president and Ohio pork producer. “Farmers are the originators of conservation and are taught the key to preservation is to protect our natural resources. We can now proceed with certainty to use all our conservation assets to best farm our land so we can deliver healthy food to our customers for generations to come.”