Supreme Court Decision Complicates Wetland Law

In a 5-4 vote in the case Rapanos v. United States, a highly divided Supreme Court muddied the laws on wetland protection. 

Michigan resident John Rapanos argued that the EPA could not use the Clean Water Act (CWA) to establish jurisdiction over his property. The government argued that because water drained through his land, the EPA was justified in regulating it.

In the decision, the court ruled that the government may have interpreted the CWA too broadly and overstepped its jursidiction by regulating Rapanos’ land. Cato calls this a victory for property rights, but don’t get too excited. In failing to reach a consensus on exactly how far the government’s jurisdiction reaches, the court left the door open for more regulation and similar cases in the future. This split has left some interpreting the decision as a victory for federal regulation, as it does not explicity deny the EPA’s claim that wetlands can be regulated under the CWA.

In the end, this ruling simply complicates an already vague set of laws and leaves the lower courts to reach case-by-case conclusions.