Supreme Court Deals Blow to Obama Administration's Environmental Agenda

Supreme Court / AP
May 31, 2016

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that landowners can appeal to a federal court when the government subjects their property to wetlands regulations requiring additional permits.

The unanimous ruling determined that the Clean Water Act "imposes substantial criminal and civil penalties for discharging any pollutant into waters" covered by federal regulations without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The decision could weaken the Obama administration’s environmental agenda.

The Corps is in charge of assessing whether a landowner’s property contains "waters of the United States" or "navigable waters," which are protected under the Clean Water Act. If officials decide that those waters fall under federal protections, the government will issue property owners jurisdiction determinations, which require individuals to obtain permits to use their own wetlands.

The Hill reported:

The key dispute in the Supreme Court’s case was whether a jurisdictional determination carries legal consequences, a necessary component in order for the decision to be a "final" agency action. The Obama administration argued that since new information can change the finding, it is not like final actions. But writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that since the finding is definitive and binding on federal government agencies, it satisfies the requirement.

Opponents of the Obama administration’s environmental policies hailed the Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co. decision as a victory for property rights and individual liberty.

"For more than 40 years, millions of landowners nationwide have had no meaningful way to challenge wrongful application of the federal Clean Water Act to their land. They have been put at the mercy of the government because land covered by the Act is subject to complete federal control," Principal Attorney M. Reed Hopper of the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation said in a statement Tuesday. "This victory guarantees the rights of millions of property owners."