U.S. High Court To Decide Wetlands-Regulation Cases
WASHINGTON The Supreme Court said Tuesday that it would would decide the reach of the federal government's power to regulate wetlands, an issue pitting environmentalists against property-rights advocates.
The justices agreed to decide a pair of Michigan cases, involving a shopping-center developer and a condominium builder, that will test whether the government's use of the 1972 Clean Water Act represented a permissible exercise of Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce.
The high court will consider whether federal regulators have gone too far by restricting development of wetlands that are not adjacent to navigable waters such as rivers or lakes.
Property-rights advocates have argued that the clean-water act covered only wetlands that physically abut traditional navigable waters. Environmentalists said the law applied to wetlands that may not have a direct connection to such waters.
The Justice Department told the Supreme Court the federal government has the power to regulate the wetlands at issue.
It said the government has had long-standing authority to protect the quality of traditional navigable waters by regulating upstream pollutant discharges, and that the law covered a wetland when there is a "hydrological connection" to nearby navigable waters, even if they do not directly abut.
In one case, a Michigan man, John Rapanos, was convicted of violating the clean-water law for filling his wetlands near Midland with sand to develop the land for a shopping center. He did not have the required permit.
The other case involved four individuals who sought to fill a wetland in Macomb County, Michigan, to build a condominium complex. The federal government denied their request for a permit under the clean-water law.
The justices will hear arguments in the two cases early next year, with a decision expected by the end of June.