Supreme Court limits EPA’s regulatory authority over wetlands

The U.S. Supreme Court on May 25, 2023, unanimously held in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the EPA’s regulatory jurisdiction over the nation’s wetlands is limited. The decision echoes the court’s 2022 ruling in West Virginia v EPA, in which the justices limited the scope of the agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The decision brings to a close a 14-year legal battle between the Sacketts and the EPA, in which the EPA claimed that the Sackett’s residential lot in Idaho contained wetlands subject to its jurisdiction pursuant to the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Sacketts disagreed and the dispute worked its way through the federal courts in the years following the initial lawsuit.

Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion of the unanimous court, arguing that the EPA’s regulatory authority over wetlands only extends to those with “a continuous surface connection to bodies that are ‘waters of the United States.’”

In an opinion concurring in the judgment, Justice Elena Kagan agreed that the EPA’s authority does not extend to the Sackett’s property but expressed concern that the court’s reasoning “substitutes its own ideas about policymaking for Congress’s.”

Additional reading:

SCOTUS hears oral argument in Clean Water Act challenge, declines to take up bump stock case

Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (2012)

West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency