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The EPA has stepped back from regulating US wetlands

Following the Supreme Court's decision in Sackett v. EPA, states will take more control of regulating their wetland areas.
The EPA has stepped back from regulating US wetlands
Posted at 8:02 PM, Aug 31, 2023

The Environmental Protection Agency is backing off of its regulation of U.S. wetlands following a Supreme Court decision earlier this year.

In May, the Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. EPA pared back the authority that the EPA has to regulate the use of U.S. wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

Wetlands are regions covered by water or where water is close to the surface of the soil for long durations, sometimes including during traditional growing seasons. They may be coastal, like some grassy wetlands, or inland basins or swamps. They can support unique ecosystems of water-loving plants and animals.

Previously, more wetlands were protected regions, including those with a "significant nexus" to other bodies of water. But the Supreme Court's new ruling allows the EPA to regulate only those wetlands that have a "continuous surface connection" to other bodies of water like rivers or oceans.

The EPA says it will enact this change immediately.

SEE MORE: Judge halts rule that would protect small waterways in 24 states

Regulation on a majority of U.S. wetlands now falls to states, which will decide how to govern their own wetland areas.

"States will either enforce or adopt new protections," Geoff Gisler, program director for the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the Associated Press. "Others will roll back existing protections."

North Carolina, for example, has for decades been regulating many of its coastal wetlands. The state legislature in June voted to strip back protections so that none exceed the rules now in place under the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.

California, on the other hand, took steps of its own back in 2019 to add new protections for what were at the time severely degraded wetland ecosystems.

In practice, the court's ruling will make it easier for developers or farmers to put wetlands to other uses.

But some experts are concerned that the new rules could lead to damage — not just to the wetland environment, but to the regions those wetlands may also protect.

"We are going to see a lot of devastation," Gisler said. "People who bought new homes, moving to North Carolina to embrace the coastal lifestyle, at some point in the next few years are likely to see their homes flooded."


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