A decision by the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday made it easier for landowners to contest the “waters of the U.S.” regulations in the Clean Water Act.
The court ruled unanimously that a landowner can challenge the Army Corps of Engineers claims of jurisdiction and Clean Water Act permit requirements through the federal court system.
The decision came from Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co. Inc., where the court ruled Hawkes had the right to challenge the rules as it would any other regulation.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange hailed the court’s ruling as a victory for the state, saying it will strengthen private property rights in water disputes with the federal government.
“The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of property owners’ rights to immediately challenge in court U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ declarations that their property is subject to the Clean Water Act,” Strange said. “This property rights defense is even more important with the threat of an expansion of federal jurisdiction under the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule.”
Waters of the U.S. defines what streams, rivers, lakes and marshes can be regulated by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and critics have said it places an unnecessary burden on farmers, “allowing bureaucrats to penalize and harass landowners who work near ponds without federal authority.”
The “Waters of the U.S.” rule was implemented on Aug. 28, 2015 and at least 29 states immediately filed suit to block its implementation.
Alabama was one of 23 states to file an amicus brief in support of the right of property owners in the case, and In September, joined 17 other states in a petition to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals seeking a nationwide stay on the controversial ruling.
That stay was subsequently granted by the court on Oct. 9.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court is currently hearing the nationwide challenge to the rule, which sought to protect tributaries showing physical signs of running water even if they don’t flow year round. It also would allow the EPA to regulate any body of water within 1,500 feet of another body of water already covered by the rule.
United States Rep. Bradley Byrne said the decision doesn’t necessarily halt the rule, but it will make it easier for landowners to challenge any decision by federal regulators when it comes to the Clean Water Act. In a statement sent to Lagniappe, Byrne said he hopes the Supreme Court will invalidate the entire rule at some point.
“Once again the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled against the Obama Administration,” Byrne said. “This means that the very individuals appointed to the Court by President Obama disagree with the actions of his Administration. This ruling is a positive development for all landowners and will help fight back against overregulation by the federal government, which is especially important as the Obama Administration continues pushing radical environmental policies like the ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule.”
Mitt Walker is the national legislative programs director for the Alabama Farmers Federation — a group that has long opposed the changes Waters of the U.S. would have enacted. He called Tuesday’s decision a “blow to the EPA,” which he said seems to be set on carrying out an agenda rather than follow the law.
“We appreciate Attorney General Strange weighing in on this case and standing up for private property rights,” Walker said. “Although the Waters of the U.S. case remains undecided, this ruling is welcome news for those who remain concerned about the EPA’s seemingly endless assaults on farmers, landowners and businesses all over the country.”