US Supreme Court Rules Against EPA in WOTUS Case
The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a case impacting farmers, ranchers and landowners regarding the agency’s “Waters of the U.S. Rule”, or WOTUS for short.

In an opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the court said that the EPA’s interpretation of wetlands and “navigable waters” covered by the Clean Water Act is “inconsistent” with the law’s text and structure, and the law extends only to “wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies of water that are ‘waters of the United States’ in their own right.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling overturns the previous decision made in favor of the EPA by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

The lawsuit, Sackett v. EPA, stemmed from a decision by government officials in 2007 to prevent Michael and Chantell Sackett from building a house on property that they owned in Idaho because the EPA deemed that the property contained wetlands under protection by the Clean Water Act.

Although the court was unanimous in its decision, the justices were 5-4 behind its reasoning. Joining Alito’s majority opinion were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett. Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson concurred in the judgment.

“Cattle producers across the country can breathe a sigh of relief today. Since EPA’s adoption of the “significant nexus” test, cattle producers have had to retain costly legal services to determine if water features on their property are federally jurisdictional,” said Todd Wilkinson, South Dakota cattle producer and President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Today’s Supreme Court opinion refocuses the Clean Water Act on protecting our water resource through regulatory clarity. We look forward to working with the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as they implement the Court’s new Continuous Surface Connection standard.”

“The EPA clearly overstepped its authority under the Clean Water Act by restricting private property owners from developing their land despite being far from the nearest navigable water,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “The justices respect private property rights. It’s now time for the Biden administration to do the same and rewrite the Waters of the United States Rule. Farmers and ranchers share the goal of protecting the resources they’re entrusted with, but they deserve a rule that provides clarity and doesn’t require a team of attorneys to properly care for their land.”