Front Porch Blog

Supreme Court to let Wetlands Live…

In a decision that could have enormous implications for coal communities suffering from mountaintop removal, the Supreme Court yesterday nearly tore up the national “Clean Water Act” – one of America’s most valued and important environmental laws.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, came within a hairs breadth of killing wetlands protections as described under the Clean Water Act. While a plurality agreed that the state of Michigan may have over-stepped its boundaries in the case of a specific landowner, they failed to create a permanent definition of “wetland” which the government was able to protect, and sent the case back to lower courts.

Justice Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, broke with his 4 conservative counterparts to save wetlands protections as defined by the Clean Water Act.

The conservative justices wanted to define a wetland as having to be “adjacent to a “relatively permanent body of water.””

The four liberal justices agreed that “government’s reach extended to all identifiable tributaries that ultimately drain into large bodies of water.”

Justice Kennedy, while siding with the four conservatives on the particular case involving a Michigan landowner, strongly disagreed with the conservative definition of wetland. He stated that tributaries that have a “significant nexus” to a navigable waterway can be protected.

Justice Kennedy is the only Republican appointee on the court who still believes in the value of one of America’s cornerstone environmental laws. The other four conservatives (Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Chief Justice Roberts) all ruled in favor of severely limiting wetlands protections under the Clean Water Act. The four liberal justices (Breyer, Ginsberg, Souter, and Stevens) all came down in favor of wetlands protection.

Justice Stevens has this to say:

Accusing the Scalia group of “antagonism to environmentalism,” Justice Stevens said the Scalia opinion “needlessly jeopardizes the quality of our waters.”

Remember the integrity of the Clean Water Act is essential in stopping mountaintop removal! MTR will be made illegal by using the Clean Water Act to protect the streams which are being buried by valleyfills. Thats why this case is SO important to the people of Appalachia.

So, as an environmentalist, the news is mixed. Justice Kennedy is the lone guy standing between the big industrial developers and their free reign over our most treasured national resources. He is the guy with his finger in the dam, so to speak – the last line of defense. And his decision wasn’t perfect, but there was a silver lining. And with this Supreme Court, thats GREAT news.

Grist has more, and NPR has some great audio!





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