Supreme Court to hear Idaho couple’s challenge to EPA’s wetlands rule

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Supreme Court justices on Monday will hear arguments in a case that could rock the Biden administration’s efforts to be more restrictive with the country’s clean water  regulations.

The Court will consider the case of Idaho landowners Michael and Chantell Sackett who have been battling the federal government since 2007 when they planned to build a home on land they own. The Environmental Protection Agency said the Sackett’s needed a federal permit to do so because their land contained wetlands.

The Sacketts objected and filed suit. A U.S. District court sided with the EPA and ruled the wetlands on the Sacketts’ property contained a “significant nexus” with other regulated waters. In other words, the Sacketts needed the government’s approval to build their home.

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So the Sacketts appealed and want the high court to throw out the “significant  nexus” threshold. Their appeal is based on a test from former Justice Antonin Scalia who said in order for the wetlands rule to apply, the waters needed to have a “continuous surface water connection.”

This will be the first case of the new term for the justices and it also happens to come just before the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Arguments will likely focus on whether wetlands can or cannot be regulated by the EPA.

Environmentalists worry the 6-3 conservative majority court will support the individual rights of the Sacketts over the EPA’s broad reach of powers and at the same time, narrow the agency’s regulatory reach.

The Hill quoted Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon as among those concerned what might happen. He chairs a House committee on water resources and the environment.

“If that’s what the Supreme Court should decide, we’re basically rolling back the clock 50 years. That would remove 50 percent of our critical wetlands and 70 percent of our rivers and streams from federal protection.”