UCF Global Perspectives


U.S. Supreme Court Sides with Property Owners in Wetlands Case

Nicholas Maier, Intern, Environment and Global Climate

June 7, 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously last Tuesday in favor of the right of property owners to challenge federal wetland protections under the 1972 U.S. Clean Water Act (C.W.A; Reuters 1). Under that law, private landowners must acquire a permit before beginning any development which may significantly impact a federally protected waterway. The federal government in recent years has fought a series of legal battles over which water bodies are protected under the C.W.A. (AP). New rules released by the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year were intended to clarify and expand the law’s jurisdiction but have stalled due to litigation from several states (Reuters 1). They would replace rules similarly drafted in 2007 in response to confusions expressed by the Supreme Court in a 2006 case (Reuters 2).

The case settled last Tuesday against the Army Corps does not directly impact the jurisdiction debate. Rather, it allows landowners to challenge the federal government in court as soon as it determines that a waterway is protected under the C.W.A. Developers previously could dispute such federal decisions only after a development permit was obtained, a lengthy and expensive process (Reuters 1). Industry and environmental experts continue to await clear guidance on whether streams, wetlands and other waters not directly connected to larger bodies are protected under the law (Reuters 2).






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