The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday in the case U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., Inc., that Army Corps of Engineers wetlands determinations can be challenged in court.
Army Corps’ jurisdictional rulings dictate which wetlands on a property are subject to Clean Water Act permitting requirements. According to the Fiscal Times, the Clean Water Act regulates pollution of the “waters of the United States” and gives the Corps authority to decide what wetlands meet that description. The “waters of the United States” provision is contentious and some believe the federal government “overreaches” with its environmental regulations.
Land is subject to the Clean Water Act if it contains wetlands connected to a river, lake or other major waterway. Under current law, property owners may ask the Corps whether their land meets that test before deciding whether to apply for a permit.
On Tuesday, the Court said landowners can go to court if federal regulators decide that a piece of property containing wetlands is covered by the Clean Water Act. The ruling is considered a victory for property-rights activists as it may ease the approval process for organizations seeking to develop wetlands.
Per Bloomberg.com, the case involved a proposed peat-mining operation on land in Minnesota. The property owners and a mining company, Hawkes Co., are fighting a decision by the Corps of Engineers that the land is subject to federal regulation. The developers were told that a federal court did not have jurisdiction over the Corps’ decision because it did not constitute a “final” action. That claim “relied on an argument by the Corps that the company could still choose to fight an enforcement action,” or could go through a lengthy permitting process. U.S. appeals courts were divided on whether such a decision can be challenged immediately in federal court.
A copy of Tuesday’s Supreme Court opinion is available here.