Right Hooks

SCOTUS Chips Away Gov't Control Over Nation's Water

A unanimous ruling with potentially big consequences.

Political Editors · Jun. 1, 2016
Another memorable government effort in clean water

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a North Dakota peat farm can go forward with a lawsuit against the U.S. government over its expansive interpretation of the Clean Water Act. Let’s repeat a key word: unanimous. As in all eight justices believe there’s a good case to be made against another overreach of Barack Obama. Last year, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which jointly enforce water pollution law, vastly expanded their jurisdiction claims over what constitute “waters of the U.S.” That makes this case critical in defining the reach. The Hill puts it in perspective: “The case is likely to have consequences for the federal government’s entire enforcement of the Clean Water Act, the main law regarding pollution control.”

Hawkes Company, a family-owned peat farm, was attempting to expand its operation into Minnesota when the Corps of Engineers declared that because the bog eventually fed into the Red River 120 miles away it somehow fell under the Corps’ jurisdiction. After the regulatory decree, there was little the farm could do besides enter a tangle of red tape. In its Tuesday ruling, the High Court determined that those jurisdictional determinations come with legal consequences, and organizations like Hawkes Company can take the government to court and challenge the ruling just like any other regulation. In the past, these companies didn’t have the courts available to them to check the government’s ever-expanding definition of what it can control water-wise. Now they do.

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