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Supreme Court slashes EPA’s authority under Clean Water Act

The Supreme Court dramatically curtailed the federal government’s power to limit water pollution in a 5-4 decision issued Thursday.

It was the second straight year the high court’s conservative majority slashed the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The latest decision dealt with wetland areas that are near major bodies of water, such as lakes and rivers. For decades under the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act, the EPA was allowed to regulate those areas, as environmental experts argued they still affected the larger bodies of water.

But that regulatory power is no more after the Supreme Court decided that wetland areas must have a “continuous surface connection” with major bodies of water to fall under EPA jurisdiction. According to environmental advocates, the decision prevents the EPA from regulating 118 million acres of wetlands.

“The Supreme Court ripped the heart out of the law we depend on to protect American waters and wetlands,” said Manish Bapna, head of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel. “This decision will cause incalculable harm. Communities across the country will pay the price.”

The case began in 2005, when the EPA forced an Idaho couple to stop building a house on property next to Priest Lake, in the state’s panhandle near the border with Canada. The couple were filling in a wetland area on the property, and they argued the EPA had no right to stop them.

After nearly two decades of back-and-forth — and with the house still not built — the Supreme Court sided with the property owners. Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett comprised the majority.

Liberal justices Sonya Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented. Kagan penned the dissent and referenced a case last year in which the court similarly scaled back EPA power over carbon dioxide emissions.

“The vice in both instances is the same: the Court’s appointment of itself as the national decision-maker on environmental policy,” Kagan wrote.

Conservative justice Brett Kavanaugh also authored a separate dissent, which Sotomayor, Kagan and Jackson joined.

With News Wire Services

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