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Supreme Court Ruling on Sackett v. EPA Provides Clarity and Protection for Property Owners and Farmers
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 06/01/2023

In a unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Chantell and Michael Sackett in the case of Sackett v. EPA. The Court held that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers had wrongfully claimed oversight over wetlands owned by the Sacketts. The verdict, announced on May 25, marked a significant turning point in the interpretation of the Clean Water Act and its application to wetlands.

The Court's ruling, with a 9-0 majority, rejected the "significant nexus" test previously used to determine Waters of the United States (WOTUS). It clarified that the Clean Water Act did not apply to the wetlands on the Sacketts' property. Additionally, by a 5-4 vote, the Court established a more stringent test for "adjacent wetlands" falling under the jurisdiction of the Act. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, stated that such wetlands must have a "continuous surface connection" with a larger body of water and be "indistinguishable from waters of the United States" in practical terms.

The implications of this decision are far-reaching, particularly for the agricultural industry. It provides clarity to farmers and landowners on how they can manage their properties without undue federal interference. The ruling was welcomed by Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Chris Hoffman, who expressed gratitude to the Court for reining in the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers' authority, emphasizing the importance of a common-sense rule that protects water quality while allowing farmers to fulfill their responsibilities.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) echoed this sentiment, commending the Supreme Court for recognizing private property rights and urging the Biden administration to revise the Waters of the United States rule accordingly. AFBF President Zippy Duvall emphasized the need for a rule that offers clarity and allows farmers to care for their land without excessive legal complexities.

U.S. Congressman Glenn "GT" Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, celebrated the unanimous ruling as a victory for farmers, ranchers, and landowners. He called for the Biden administration to withdraw its flawed final WOTUS rule and create a practical framework that safeguards clean water while respecting the rights of rural Americans. This landmark decision provides essential clarity and protection for property owners, signaling a significant shift in wetland jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

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