Georgia leaders cheer Supreme Court ruling to limit wetland protections

WASHINGTON — A Supreme Court ruling Thursday weakened a landmark water pollution law and could make it easier for private landowners to develop or build on property near wetlands.

The federal Clean Water Act defines navigable waters such as rivers and lakes as “waters of the United States” and gives the government ability to regulate wetlands. In the past, Georgia farmers and state leaders have said the law creates an additional layer of red tape and infringes on the rights of individuals.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, who has helped lead a multistate push to reverse the law, applauded the ruling.

“Today, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the (Environmental Protection Agency’s) unlawful attempt to regulate nearly every drop of water on private property,” he said in a post on Twitter. “We have been fighting against this federal power grab for years, and this is a major win for hardworking farmers across our state!”

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper also issued a statement calling the ruling “an important victory for Georgia farmers, producers, and consumers and against unconstitutional overreach by the federal government.”

“For too long, the Clean Water Act has been used as a political tool to infringe on our agriculture industry, leaving farmers, producers, and property owners at the mercy of the federal government,” he said.

Environmental groups were among those lamenting the ruling as a blow to efforts to protect water.

“The Supreme Court has rewritten the Clean Water Act to drastically cut back its protections, placing families and communities at greater risk from flooding and pollution,” said Nick Torrey, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The Supreme Court’s new ruling will exclude many of Georgia’s more than 4.5 million acres of wetlands from federal safeguards we have all depended on to control pollution and minimize harmful impacts. This is a major setback for Georgia and the country, but we’ll keep fighting to protect clean water with every tool at our disposal.”

As a result of Thursday’s 5-4 ruling by the court’s conservative majority, the reach of the EPA’s wetlands regulations will be limited. In this case, Sackett v. EPA, an Idaho couple filed suit after being told they could not construct a new home on their property without first receiving permits from the federal government because of their proximity to Lake Priest.

The four dissenting justices agreed that the law had been unfairly applied to the Sacketts but criticized the majority for changing the definition of “waters of the United States.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, a Jackson Republican, said the ruling makes clear that regulatory oversight has gone too far.

“Sackett, combined with multiple Congressional Review Act resolutions recently passed in Congress, should put federal agencies on notice: the American people will not tolerate the administrative state making up authority and undermining their freedoms,” he said in a statement.

Staff writer Drew Kann contributed to this article.