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Various Statements on Supreme Court WOTUS Ruling

(WASHINGTON D.C.) — Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of farmers and ranchers by siding with them in the Sackett v. EPA case regarding the Waters of the United States Rule (WOTUS). Below is more reaction from various lawmakers, industry groups and more to the ruling by the high court:

Thompson Issues Statement on WOTUS Ruling

WASHINGTON, DC — Following the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Michael and Chantell Sackett in the Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency case, Glenn “GT” Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, issued the following statement:

“Today’s unanimous ruling in Sackett v. EPA is a victory for America’s farmers, ranchers, and land owners. The decision reaffirms the rights of property owners and provides long-needed clarity to rural America. In light of this decision, the Biden Administration should withdraw its flawed final WOTUS rule. It is time to finally put an end to the regulatory whiplash and create a workable rule that promotes clean water while protecting the rights of rural Americans.”

Statement from North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer (R)

“The more I look into this Supreme Court decision and ruling, the better it looks. What the Court is doing is restoring power to Congress, and they’re doing it by looking at cases where the agencies of the government have overreached the authority granted them in law by the Congress.

“Congressional intent matters, and this court actually honors that. They’ve used the Major Questions doctrine, specifically in the West Virginia v. EPA case, which was so important to North Dakota dealing with the Clean Power Plan. They’ve taken up a case now considering the Chevron doctrine, which is a doctrine that’s been around for decades that yields to the agencies regardless of congressional intent.

“The way they do that is they use the word ‘ambiguity.’ Well, congressional intent is sometimes ambiguous because they don’t want to give power away. This Court has taken the appropriate position: the absence of a prohibition in the law is not a license for the agency to regulate – and good for them for doing that.

“What I really love about the Sackett v. EPA case they just decided is: Ronald Reagan reigns again. They went back to the 1986 Ronald Reagan administration’s definition of Waters of the United States, for the most part, in their much more narrow definition. Again, good for them for bringing things back to where they’re supposed to be constitutionally.

“I loved what Alito wrote when he said, ‘In order to make sense of Congress’s initial intent…’ Initial intent is so important here. Again, this Court is restoring what that means, and it’s really, really refreshing to see that happen.”

NCGA Applauds Supreme Court WOTUS Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court today handed a huge win to landowners, including farmers, in a case involving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s jurisdiction over Waters of the United States, often referred to as WOTUS.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) applauded the decision.

“This sensible ruling preserves protections for our nation’s valuable water resources while providing clarity to farmers and others about the process of determining federal jurisdiction over wetlands,” said NCGA President Tom Haag. “This is a great day for corn growers.”

In the decision, the court narrowed the scope of the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction by clearly rejecting the vague “significant nexus test,” upending the Biden administration’s overreaching WOTUS rule.

A 5-4 majority on the court issued an opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, that significantly narrowed the definition of adjacent wetlands, saying that to be adjacent and therefore a WOTUS, the wetland must have a continuous surface connection to a relatively permanent body of water connected to a traditional navigable water. The four-justice minority disagreed in an opinion, written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, saying that a continuous surface connection test is too narrow, and overturns decades of precedent followed by both Republican and Democratic administrations.

NCGA, which has long said that EPA’s broad definition of WOTUS creates pervasive uncertainty and confusion for the agricultural community and farmers trying to manage land they own and operate, has spoken out forcefully on the issue and joined other agricultural groups in filing an amicus brief as the Supreme Court considered the case.

EPA is now expected to issue a revised WOTUS rule, since its current rule relies heavily on the significant nexus test.

NAWG Responds to SCOTUS Ruling in Sackett v. EPA Case

Washington, D.C. (May 25, 2023) – Today, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Sackett v. EPA that narrows the extent of federal jurisdiction over bodies of water under the Clean Water Act.

“NAWG is pleased with the rule the Supreme Court issued today that rejected the confusing and expansive “significant nexus” test that broadened the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act,” said NAWG CEO Chandler Goule. “The Supreme Court ruling sided with a narrower definition of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction and limited the number of wetlands that would come under the regulation of the Clean Water Act.”

Last year, NAWG joined several other agriculture groups in filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court stating the complexity of the definitions and impact on agriculture. NAWG will continue to advocate that any regulation is limited in scope to navigable waters and provides farmers clarity on which waters are jurisdictional.

SCOTUS decision in Sackett v. EPA clarifies states’ authority and brings hope of regulatory certainty for farmers

ARLINGTON, Va. — In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture CEO Ted McKinney shares its impact on states, farmers and NASDA’s next steps.

“The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Sackett v. EPA today comes as welcome news to farmers, landowners and state departments of agriculture who sought clarity on what has been an over-litigated issue for decades,” McKinney said. “We take relief in this decision as the justices clearly state the ‘significant nexus theory is particularly implausible’ and the EPA has no statutory basis to impose the standard.”

In his opinion, Justice Alito also recognizes the limits of federal jurisdiction, and in doing so, acknowledges “Regulation of land and water use lies at the core of traditional state authority.”

“Today’s ruling proves that protecting our nation’s waterways and growing food, fiber and fuel are two tandem efforts – not two competing interests,” McKinney said. “There is, however, still work to be done to ensure farmers and ranchers are equipped to best care for their land while following applicable federal or state requirements.”

NASDA turns to EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a revised version of their prematurely released WOTUS rule. Going against volumes of stakeholder input, EPA and the Corps issued a WOTUS rulemaking before today’s SCOTUS decision, which now renders portions of the agency’s final WOTUS rule moot.

Looking forward, NASDA will continue to work with EPA, the Corps and NASDA members to update and implement a regulatory framework that better reflects the needs of state agriculture departments, farmers, ranchers and all the communities they serve.

ARA Commends SCOTUS Ruling to Restore “Common Sense” WOTUS Rule

ARLINGTON, Va. (May 25, 2023) – The Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) applauds the U.S. Supreme Court for their ruling in Sackett v. EPA. ARA President and CEO Daren Coppock issued the following statement:

“All of agriculture has been waiting for this ruling on defining Waters of the United States (WOTUS). The Court stated that the wetland under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act (CWA) must have ‘a continuous surface connection with that water,’ making it difficult to determine where the water ends and the wetland begins.

“The decision finally restores common sense back into WOTUS regulation. Hopefully it lays to rest efforts by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to extend CWA jurisdiction well beyond Congressional intent.

“When EPA issued their WOTUS rule earlier this year, ARA remarked that the decision was premature with a Supreme Court ruling pending and would likely result in wasted effort. This prediction has now proven true.

“The Court’s ruling today should provide the legal certainly necessary for ag retailers and their farmer customers. The EPA needs to expeditiously update the WOTUS regulation according to the clear ruling issued by the Supreme Court.”

Pork Producers Celebrate SCOTUS Ruling on WOTUS
“The Supreme Court’s historical decision to define the limits of EPA authority under the Clean Water Act is a tremendous victory for America’s pork producers who have played a leading role for almost two decades in opposing the agency’s heavy-handed efforts to micromanage our farms. This ruling is a clear punctuation point after decades of attempts by activists and the EPA to expand the federal government’s power and control over private land. Farmers are the originators of conservation and are taught the key to preservation is to protect our natural resources. We can now proceed with certainty to use all our conservation assets to best farm our land so we can deliver healthy food to our customers for generations to come.”
– Duane Stateler, NPPC vice president and Ohio pork producer
National Grange Commends Supreme Court for Siding With Landowners
On Thursday, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision that significantly narrows the scope of the Clean Water Act as interpreted by the federal government. This long-awaited ruling on Waters of the United States (“WOTUS”) states the law only regulates wetlands when they are “as a practical matter indistinguishable from waters of the United States.” The EPA and Corps of Engineers will need to rewrite their WOTUS rule that went into effect in March to reflect this new guidance and allow farmers, ranchers, forest owners, and other landowners to move ahead with good management decisions.
“The National Grange has long maintained the EPA and Corps of Engineers onerous WOTUS rule infringed upon private property rights and prevented landowners from making wise stewardship decisions about their land and water,” said Betsy Huber, President of the National Grange. “The WOTUS rule was a classic case of government overreach that went far beyond the original intent of Congress. Farmers, ranchers, and forest owners are America’s original conservationists and know far better how to manage their soil, water, and food production than the federal government.”

Supreme Court Sides with Farmers in WOTUS Case

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously sided with the Sacketts in the Sackett v. EPA case, limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate certain bodies of water and confirming that President Biden’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule is unconstitutional government overreach.

“Minnesotans have a long history of protecting the waters in our state,” said Congresswoman Michelle Fischbach. “This Supreme Court ruling provides certainty for farmers that the water seasonally flooding their fields will not become regulated by the federal government, it will also eliminate costly and time-consuming duplicative paperwork, allowing housing, energy, and infrastructure projects to move forward more efficiently, all while ensuring that the state of Minnesota can continue its proud tradition of protecting our waters.”

New ruling sharply restricts federal protections for wetlands, adds confusion to “Waters of the U.S.” protections

ARLINGTON, Va.—The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a ruling sharply curtailing Clean Water Act protections for wetlands that are critical to healthy and functioning watersheds.

Ruling in Sackett v. EPA, the court limited Clean Water Act protection for wetlands to those with a “continuous surface connection” to other “Waters of the United States,” which will remove federal protections for the majority of the nation’s wetlands. Earlier rulings had protected any wetlands with a “significant nexus” to Waters of the U.S., and for decades the Clean Water Act has covered wetlands that are “adjacent” to those waters. In the case in question, the court found that a landowner did not need a federal Clean Water Act permit to fill in a wetland lacking a “continuous surface connection” to a water body flowing into Idaho’s popular Priest Lake that provides important cutthroat trout habitat.

The ruling underscores the need for the Biden administration to defend Clean Water Act protections for small streams, which have been the subject of decades of rulemakings and court cases, including ongoing litigation over the revised “Waters of the United States” rule finalized earlier this year to reinstate protections for millions of miles of small streams.

“We are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling. The court has severely eroded a 50-year national commitment to clean water, and misses the obvious point that wetlands are often connected to streams through subsurface flows,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “The ruling is a victory for muddy thinking, and directly compromises the stated purpose of the Clean Water Act—to make our rivers and streams more fishable, swimmable, and drinkable.  It is critical that the Biden administration continue advocating for a ‘Waters of the U.S.’ definition that is rooted in science and ensures protection of the small streams and wetlands that provide clean water for people, communities, businesses, farmers, and fish and wildlife.

“This ruling makes Trout Unlimited’s work on the ground to reconnect and restore trout and salmon watersheds even more vital,” Wood added.

The ruling is the latest in a decades-long debate over which streams, rivers, and wetlands should be protected by the Clean Water Act. In 2015, Trout Unlimited and our partners backed the Clean Water Rule, which was grounded in science and would have confirmed protections for small “ephemeral” and “intermittent” streams, headwaters, and wetlands.  That rule was blocked by the courts, repealed by the Trump EPA, and briefly replaced with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which offered weaker protections for small streams. In findings published in a peer-reviewed journal, TU showed that half of all waters in the contiguous United States would have been unprotected under the Trump administration rule.

The EPA finalized a new rule in March, which reinstated Clean Water Act coverage for millions of miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands.

Rather than clarifying matters, the Supreme Court ruling will lead to more confusion and litigation in the coming years over the Clean Water Act, the revised Waters of the U.S. rule, and protections for wetlands and streams.

Trout Unlimited has been a leader among fish and wildlife groups in defending the Clean Water Act protections for our vital wetlands and headwater streams. We joined an amicus brief in the Sackett case, our fourth amicus submitted in four different courts in defense of wetlands and streams.

Learn more about TU’s work on clean water.

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