Supreme Court Limits EPA's Ability To Enforce Clean Water Act

Earlier today, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a case that has been a hot-button topic for both environmentalists and advocates for the rights of land owners. In the end, the Supremes came down on the side of landowners, allowing them to take legal steps to void Environmental Protection Agency compliance orders.

Until now, the EPA could issue a compliance order to a landowner if the agency believed it had found a violation of the Clean Water Act. However, property owners could not legally contest the allegations until after the EPA had received a court ruling backing the order.

Landowners argues that this system tipped the scales in favor of the EPA, as they were forced to wait until the agency took legal action before they could file their own complaint.

The EPA defended the system by saying that it insured the agency’s ability to work quickly in protecting water sources and that allowing landowners to sue first would undermine that process.

In writing for the unanimous Supremes, Justice Antonin Scalia stated that “compliance orders will remain an effective means of securing prompt voluntary compliance in those many cases where there is no substantial basis to question their validity.”

The case involved in the Supreme Court ruling began with a compliance order issued against an Idaho couple. The EPA said the couple’s property contained protected wetlands and ordered them to return the site to pre-construction condition or face upwards of $75,000/day in fines. The couple argued that their land did not actually contain wetlands.

High Court Limits Clean Water Act Enforcement [WSJ.com]