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Supreme Court WOTUS ruling favors farmers, property owners

Supreme Court WOTUS ruling favors farmers, property owners

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of landowner rights in its Sackett v. EPA ruling over the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority regarding what waters constitute a “Waters of the United States.”

In the ruling, the court declared that the Clean Water Act does not allow the EPA to regulate wetlands that are isolated from other bodies of water.

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation joined with other state Farm Bureaus in signing onto an amicus brief advocating that states are best positioned to regulate features within their borders—and already do so. The justices referred to this argument in the conclusion of their ruling.

“Farmers have been arguing against these arbitrary rules from EPA for many years, and their voices were finally heard,” said Martha Moore, senior vice president of governmental relations for VFBF.

The Sacketts, a couple from Idaho, had been in a long-running battle with the EPA over a piece of land they purchased with intentions of building a home on it. The EPA claimed that the Sacketts' property was a "wetland" and, as such, was subject to the Clean Water Act's WOTUS regulations.

The Sacketts argued that the EPA had overstepped its bounds and was infringing on their private property rights. The overregulation stemmed from the "absence of a clear and definitive test" to determine what constitutes a WOTUS.
“The court's ruling throws out the controversial ‘significant nexus’ test and is a step toward a more reasonable definition of WOTUS—something Farm Bureau has advocated for since the beginning,” noted Ben Rowe, VFBF national affairs coordinator.

“This is a victory for farmers and property rights, and we hope this ruling can set the stage for the agencies to develop clear and easy-to-understand rules going forward.”

The court defined that the Clean Water Act’s use of “waters” encompasses only those that are relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water forming geographical features that are described as streams, oceans, rivers and lakes. As for wetlands, the act extends only to wetlands that are indistinguishable from WOTUS and, secondly, that the wetlands have a continuous surface connection with that water.

While EPA’s proposed 2023 rule remains on the books, the outcome of this court case negates EPA’s and the Army Corps of Engineers’ ability to enforce it.

“Farmers and ranchers share the goal of protecting the resources they’re entrusted with, but they deserve a rule that provides clarity and doesn’t require a team of attorneys to properly care for their land,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall.

Media: Contact Rowe at 804-290-1017 or Mike Tomko, AFBF communications director, at 202-406-3642.