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Supreme Court Limits EPA's Power for Second Year in a Row with New Water Pollution Decision

The National Wildlife Federation said the decision would not only impact the health of the country's wetlands, but could "jeopardize drinking water supplies for millions of people"

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images News Supreme Court
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images News Supreme Court

For the second year in a row, the U.S. Supreme Court has rolled back federal regulations protecting the environment, ruling on Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot regulate wetlands that are isolated from larger bodies of water.

The ruling in Sackett v. EPA stems from an Idaho couple who, in 2007, purchased a parcel of land that was on protected wetlands and therefore subject to Clean Water Act protections. The couple sued in an attempt to develop the wetlands into a lake house.

Now, 14 years later, the case landed at the Supreme Court, which was tasked with determining how protected waters in the U.S. are defined.

RELATED: Supreme Court Limits Power of EPA, Thwarting Biden Administration's Ability to Combat Climate Change

On Thursday, the court was unanimous in determining that the land owned by the Idaho family was not subject to the Clean Water Act. It was split 5-4, however, on the question of whether wetlands that have a continuous surface connection to a body of water are covered by the Clean Water Act.

Ultimately, the court ruled that the Clean Water Act only extends to wetlands "with a continuous surface connection" to larger regulated bodies of water, siding with the couple.

The National Wildlife Federation had argued that a ruling in favor of Sackett would severely restrict the EPA's scope of powers and hinder its ability to enforce environmental regulations. Following the court's ruling, the organization said the decision would not only impact the health of the country's wetlands, but could "jeopardize drinking water supplies for millions of people."

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Jim Murphy, director of legal advocacy for the NWF, said in a statement that the ruling removes “vital protections from important streams and wetlands in every state. We call on both Congress and state governments to step in, plug the gap, and protect our threatened waters and the people that depend on them.”

The decision comes one year after the Supreme Court limited the EPA's power to curb carbon emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act.

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