Energy & Environment

Supreme Court cases evaluated EPA powers

Supreme Court cases evaluated EPA powers

Key Supreme Court decisions against the federal government in cases involving the Clean Water Act have sparked a new round of guidelines by the agencies involved to define certain waterways.

One case involved John Rapanos, who drained and filled 22 acres of wetlands that were 20 miles away from “waters of the United States” in Michigan to build a shopping mall.

The government claimed it was a navigable waterway linked by a tributary and levied millions of dollars in fines. A lower court found Rapanos guilty of violating federal law and ordered him to pay $5,000 in fines and serve three years of probation.

The Supreme Court rejected the lower court’s decision in a 4-1-4 plurality in 2006 and determined that isolated wetlands were not considered “waters of the United States.”

Lawmakers say the new EPA guidelines use an overly broad interpretation of the Rapanos decision, and the effect would be that virtually all wet areas would connect in some way to navigable waters.

In the 2001 case involving the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) in Illinois, mining trenches that evolved into ponds ranging from a few feet to several acres used by migratory birds were deemed as protected waters.

The Supreme Court found in a 5-4 ruling that the Clean Water Act did not allow federal jurisdiction over these isolated waterways.

“The draft guidance ignores the SWANCC Court’s interpretation … and expands the definition of ‘waters of the United States’ to include ditches and other upland ephemeral features that may flow, if at all, only during and for a short duration after rain events,” lawmakers said.

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