U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Clean Water Cases

Environment Colorado

In its first major environmental decision since the addition of Justices Roberts and Alito, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a split decision today covering two Clean Water Act cases, Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. Army Corps of Engineers.

The cases addressed which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act, specifically whether the Act covers streams that only have water in them intermittently, as do many western streams, and channels that provide drainage for rainfall, but only periodically.

Despite the fact that these types of waterways are ultimately connected to and drain to larger waterways, such as the Colorado River, the court held they are not protected by the Clean Water Act.

“By withdrawing these protections, the Court has given polluters the green light to pollute these waterways, and ultimately larger waterbodies, at will,” said Stephanie Thomas, Environment Colorado Advocate.

In the two cases, developers in Michigan sought to destroy wetlands for construction projects, a shopping center in Rapanos and a condominium complex in Carabell. The Justices ruled 5-4 to return the cases to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for further review. The Justices wrote five separate opinions, none of which received a majority support.

“To ensure that future generations are able to fish, boat and swim safely in America’s waterways, we must safeguard all of our waters, from streams that trickle to rivers that sometimes roar, like the Colorado River,” continued Thomas. “In the wake of today’s Court decision, Congress should move swiftly to make it clear that the original intent of the Clean Water Act is to protect all waters in the U.S.”

The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act (H.R. 1356 and S. 912), which has been introduced by Representatives James Oberstar (D-MN), Jim Leach (R-IA), John Dingell (D-MI) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) in the House and Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) in the Senate, would reaffirm that the intent of Congress in enacting the Clean Water Act was to protect all waters of the U.S.

“After this decision, it is more important than ever for Congress to pass the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act,” said Ms. Thomas. “We strongly urge Senators Allard and Salazar to support this important legislation.”