Writing for the five majority justices, Justice Alito said the Clean Water Act does not allow the agency to regulate pollution dumped into wetlands unless they have “a continuous surface connection” to other waters. The decision overrides the previous interpretation that allowed the EPA to regulate wetlands that have a “significant nexus” to nearby regulated waters. Justice Kavanaugh, who broke with the conservative justices, wrote the current decision could threaten efforts to control flooding on the Mississippi River and protect the Chesapeake Bay, among other projects.
The ruling is a huge victory for housing developers, farmers and the energy industry looking to build on wetlands and avoid complying with the Clean Water Act. Mark Ryan, a former EPA Clean Water Act specialist, told The Hill that the ruling could result in some of the nation’s wetlands being filled out of existence. “If you’re a developer and you buy a piece of farmland that had a bunch of wetlands on it that weren’t right next to the river…you could just go out and start filling those wetlands now. You don’t need a permit unless the state requires it,” Ryan said. Wetlands often act as buffers for flood and drought, putting communities and ecosystems – especially those most vulnerable to pollution and intensifying climate disasters – in danger. (CNN, AP, The Hill, Axios, Gizmodo, New York Times $, TIME $, Bloomberg $, E&E $)