U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Affects Maine Waterways
Friday, May 26, 2023
Environmental advocates say the U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a major blow to the Clean Water Act and to Maine's ability to protect some of its most pristine wetlands.
A 5-4 decision in Sackett v. EPA held wetlands can only be regulated under the Clean Water Act if they have a "continuous surface connection" to larger, regulated bodies of water.
Alex Funk, director of water resources and senior counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said the ruling eliminates federal protections for nearly all wetlands in the country.
"Anyone that hunts, fishes, recreates or uses water, there was a big hit to that today from the court," Funk asserted.
The high court ruled in favor of an Idaho couple who had been prevented from building a home near a lake federal officials identified as also containing wetland property and required a special permit. About one-fourth of Maine's land area is wetlands, which is four times the wetland area of the other five New England states combined.
Maine's coastal waters, rivers and lakes all depend on wetlands to filter out pollutants. Wetlands also serve as vital habitat for wildlife and flood protection for communities.
John Rumpler, clean water program director for Environment Maine, called today's ruling a devastating blow to protecting the state's waterways, and a misguided interpretation of the Clean Water Act.
"If a vast number of acres of remaining wetlands in Maine are no longer protected by our federal Clean Water Act, then there's a risk that polluters and developers will run amok and put our water at risk," Rumpler contended.
Rumpler stressed it is now up to state agencies and lawmakers in Augusta to ensure all of Maine's waterways, especially its wetlands, are protected by state law. He argued Congress will eventually need to create greater federal protections for the nation's vital water resources.
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