Washinton, DC — On May 25, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the landmark environmental case Sackett v. EPA, which concerns the extent to which big polluters can bulldoze wetlands and dump waste into our streams. The opinion – delivered by Justice Alito and joined by Justices Roberts, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Barrett – narrows the scope of the Clean Water Act by eliminating protections for wetlands, except in very limited circumstances.
The Court has embraced the extreme demands of big polluters, undoing protections that have safeguarded our waters for over 50 years. This places our communities, public health, and local ecosystems in danger – especially those most vulnerable to pollution and intensifying climate disasters. Congress and state officials across the country need to act fast to protect water bodies that our nation relies on for drinking, fishing, and fueling local economies.
Read on to learn what Coalition members and partners are saying about this impactful case. This page will be udated as statements are shared.
Alliance for Justice President Rakim H.D. Brooks issued the following statement: “I recommend that the public consult Justice Kagan’s opinion. She makes plain that the majority has contorted itself to reach an absurd decision — one that contravenes Congress’s intention, exceeds the Court’s constitutional authority, and endangers the planet. Using an absurd distortion of vocabulary to achieve the result the fossil fuel companies prefer, the conservative majority abandons any sense of integrity — even Justice Kavanaugh had to jump ship on this one. Plainly, the Clean Water Act rests on a foundational principle that all connected waterways, including those that manmade structures interrupt, are regulated by the Act. That is the Act they should be enforcing, but their decision fails that simple test. This Supreme Court opinion is just another example of the conservative justices ignoring science, common sense, and the health of our nation. We know that climate change is only going to make it harder to protect access to clean water, making this a huge setback for the entire planet. This is not a ruling on behalf of reason or the rule of law, but one that helps the rich get richer at the expense of everybody else.”
Alliance of Nurses for Health Environments Executive Director, Katie Huffling, DNP, RN, CNM, FAAN issued the following statement: “The Supreme Court’s decision today undermines the original intent of the Clean Water Act – to ensure access to safe and clean water for all Americans. The weakening of this landmark law narrows the ability for agencies, such as the EPA, to enforce critical clean water safeguards that are essential to keeping people healthy. In the 50 years since the passage of the bipartisan Clean Water Act, we have experienced a drastic clean up of our nation’s waterways. Yet, millions of people across the country still do not have access to clean and safe drinking water, exemplifying that progress must continue. The decision today undercuts progress and puts millions of people’s drinking water at risk, especially for those that continue to struggle with accessing clean water in states due to inadequate regulations and historical pollution. Nurses are calling on the Administration to enforce the remaining provisions of law as permitted by the Court’s decision, for states to strengthen their own laws, and for Congress to act to restore safeguards that protect the clean water we all rely on.”
Tom Kiernan, President and CEO of American Rivers, made the following statement: “The court’s ruling is a serious blow to wetlands, which are essential to clean, affordable drinking water, public health, and flood protection. Today’s ruling puts rivers and people at greater risk from pollution and harm. We urge state officials, the Biden Administration, and Congress to act quickly to safeguard rivers, wetlands, and streams that are so vital to our health and safety, environment, and economy. Rivers should unite us, not divide us. Without strong, science-based protections, the rivers and wetlands that are the lifeblood of our nation will suffer irreparable harm. We risk going backwards to a time of beach closures and rivers choked with pollution. This ruling will exacerbate environmental injustices as the worst impacts harm communities of color. American Rivers will continue to stand with local partners and frontline communities to secure equitable protections for rivers and clean water nationwide.”
“While a few polluters will benefit from gutting our nation’s clean water rules, most businesses depend on clean water, which is vital for farms, fisheries, and members of the outdoor recreation, hospitality, and tourism sectors,” said David Levine, President and Co-founder of American Sustainable Business Network (ASBN)
“The economic value of clean, healthy water to the U.S. business community is immense, as is the harm that will result from petitioners’ proposed reduction of federal protections,” says Colton Fagundes, Senior Policy Director of the American Sustainable Business Network (ASBN) Clean Water is Good for Business campaign.
Rachel Conn, Amigos Bravos’ Deputy Director issued the following statement: “The Court has embraced the extreme demands of big polluters and has dramatically narrowed the scope of the Clean Water Act, putting New Mexico’s communities, public health, and local ecosystems in danger – especially those most vulnerable to pollution and intensifying climate disasters. This decision dramatically decreases the number of NM waters that are federally protected the Clean Water Act. The constantly changing federal protections over the past decade has disproportionately impacted New Mexico due to its large percentage of ephemeral/intermittent streams and closed basins (watersheds that do not feed traditional navigable waterways). Today’s Supreme Court ruling adds to this uncertainty. Furthermore, New Mexico is only one of three states that does not have its own surface water permitting program, meaning New Mexico relies on the EPA to permit point-source discharges and does not have the infrastructure in place to protect state waters that aren’t protected by EPA, which under recent federal actions, including today’s decision, make up as much as 96% of New Mexico’s waters. This magnifies the need for New Mexico to create its own surface water permitting program and secure primacy for regulating discharges to the waters in our state. The US Congress and New Mexico officials need to act fast to protect water bodies that our nation and state rely on for drinking, irrigating, fishing, and fueling local economies.”
Statement from Anthropocene Alliance’s Dr. Stephen F. Eisenman, Co-Found, Director of Strategy and Harriet Festing, Executive Director: “When the U.S. Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 mandating protection for wetlands “adjacent to the waters of the United States,” it meant what it said. It didn’t say “neighboring,” “bordering,” or “contiguous,” It said “adjacent,” which according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means those things as well as “very near” and “neighboring.” Recent usage, says the OED, includes: “five miles away in an adjacent valley;” and “a parking lot adjacent to a soccer field.” But when you are the U.S. Supreme Court, dominated by extremely conservative justices who value private profit over public good, adjacent means having a “continuous” surface connection to a thing. By that logic, a bus can’t be adjacent to a soccer field unless the lot is covered in grass, or the field is covered in asphalt! Since the Court has access to a dictionary, there is only one word to describe the five justices who comprised the majority today in Sackett v. EPA: duplicitous . That means “deceitful or double-dealing,” according to the OED. Because of this ruling, some 120 million acres of U.S. wetlands will be subject to development: They can be filled with gravel and sand, filled with concrete, or buried under toxic sludge. That also means that many neighborhoods liable to flooding will no longer have a buffer – really a sponge – to protect them against sudden storms, sea-level rise and rivers that top their banks. In truth, the EPA has long been lax in its enforcement of the Clean Water Act, and its recent initiative to update its understanding of “waters of the United Sates” is too little, too late. And after Sackett, it’s off the hook. It will have the Supreme Court to blame every time a formerly protected wetland is paved over or plowed under. “Not our fault – It’s that dang court!” Here’s the bottom line on today’s terrible, dishonest, irresponsible, environment-destroying, climate-warming decision by the Supreme Court: It’s on us. We need to fight back. That means organize us, our neighbors and our communities to prevent local and state governments from paving what little paradise remains. It means protesting, boycotting, and otherwise blocking (legally) developers from destroying climate, bird, and animal protecting wetlands. That’s what we at Anthropocene Alliance, and our 150+ member communities aim to do.”
“Over the past five decades, the Clean Water Act has revitalized and protected the most vulnerable waters and wetlands of Arizona and across the U.S.,” said Scott Garlid, Arizona Wildlife Federation’s Executive Director. “These waterways act as the kidneys of larger rivers and lakes, filtering water and safeguarding the health and safety of millions of Arizonans. Now state and local agencies must step in to ensure our drinking water supplies, flood protection, and critical habitats are secure for future generations.”
“The majority decision ignores how water moves across our landscape and insults the lived experience of communities across greater Houston,” said Kristen Schlemmer, Legal Director & Waterkeeper, Bayou City Waterkeeper in Houston. “Where we see ecosystems vital to our safety and health, the Supreme Court sees an undeveloped lot in search of a home or subdivision destined for flooding. Absent action, this decision will leave us all more vulnerable to flooding, climate risks, and water pollution. This decision demands immediate action by Congress. It also emphasizes the need for local and regional policy solutions and investment that can preserve large ecosystems as a means of flood and climate protection.”
Statement of John Jacob, PhD, soil scientist with a focus on Texas coastal wetlands: “Today we see a sad continuation of the loss of critical wetlands. I have worked in Gulf Coast wetland landscapes for over 30 years. I know their value; I know wetlands are a crucial buffer for downstream flooding. Today’s Supreme Court decision does not recognize the role of wetlands in a secure future for the Houston region. Development gets much more play in this ruling than a strong body of scientific evidence, which we ignore at our peril. These wetlands are irreplaceable. I mourn the loss of unique landscapes my grandchildren and their children will not know. And I fear that flooding and poor water quality will continue unabated in the Houston region and in the Upper Texas Gulf Coast.”
Black Millennials 4 Flint’s opinion in response to the recent ruling:
- Everyone should be troubled by this Supreme Court ruling. This decision is a giveaway to big polluters and extreme anti-regulatory organizations in their effort to strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect our health and clean up our waters. Everyday people did not ask for this rollback – to the contrary, more than three in four people in this country support strong federal protections for our waters.
- The Court has failed the most vulnerable among us – namely indigenous communities, communities of color, and those most vulnerable to pollution, and facing intensifying climate disasters.
- We need every tool in the toolbox to stop big polluters from indiscriminately bulldozing our wetlands and dumping waste into our streams. While today’s ruling damages our nation’s bedrock clean water law, it’s essential we take full advantage of tools that remain to protect
the waterways our families and communities rely on for drinking, swimming, fishing, fueling local economies, and more.
- The Environmental Protection Agency must act to protect streams, wetlands, and other waterways to the broadest extent permitted by the Court’s decision, as soon as possible.
- Our coalition of clean water advocates, families, scientific experts, frontline communities, and public health professionals will continue to fight back against the attempts of big polluters to gut the Clean Water Act and block the EPA from protecting our communities.
Statement from Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, Executive Director, Children’s Environmental Health Network: Today the Supreme Court made a long awaited decision in the Sackett v. EPA case that narrows the scope of the Clean Water Act by eliminating protections for wetlands, except in very limited circumstances. This is not the decision we were looking for. The Court has failed the most vulnerable among us – namely children, pregnant women, indigenous and communities of color, and those most vulnerable to pollution, also facing intensifying climate disasters. The American public did not ask for this. To the contrary, more than three in four people in this country support strong federal protections for our waters. Everyone should be troubled by this Supreme Court ruling. This decision is a giveaway to big polluters and extreme anti-regulatory organizations in their effort to strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect our health and clean up our waters. In order to protect the health and well-being of this and current generations, we must raise our voices against this decision and its implications.”
“Everyone, no matter their race, zip code, or income, deserves access to clean water,” said Chispa National Director Estefany Carrasco-Gonzalez. “Clean and healthy waterways are vital for our comunidades, especially Indigenous communities and communities of color who face the greatest burdens from pollution, lack of water infrastructure investment, and environmental injustice. The Supreme Court siding with polluters instead of our families will have broad implications for our ability to protect water for generations to come. Congress must take immediate action to strengthen the Clean Water Act to prioritize the health of people, not the profits of polluters.”
Clean Water Action President and CEO Jeff Carter released this statement: “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is anti-science and anti-common sense and abandons long standing Clean Water Act protections that had been in place for decades. Protecting wetlands and other waters from pollution is critical to safeguarding the rivers and lakes that communities swim and fish in. This grossly misguided decision threatens our vital drinking water sources and prioritizes polluters’ interests over the health of people and ecosystems. Our work to protect clean water is far from over and we call on Congress and states to take swift action to ensure water bodies across the country are protected.”
“Isolated wetlands of the type targeted by today’s Supreme Court decision are some of Appalachia’s most critical natural resources,” said Dr. Wally Smith, Vice President of The Clinch Coalition and an aquatic ecologist focusing on Appalachian biodiversity. “Some of our most sensitive and ecologically-important wildlife species rely almost solely on isolated wetlands to reproduce and survive, while those same wetlands act as natural insurance policies for mountain communities at-risk from flooding. In fact, a number of communities across southwest Virginia and eastern Kentucky are still recovering from recent, tragic floods that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and took more than 40 lives. Impacts from degraded upland wetland areas, particularly those associated with extractive lands, have been front and center in efforts to understand why those floods were so catastrophic. As Appalachia continues to grapple with increasingly severe rainfall events, it is essential that we ensure that even those wetlands that lack connections to surface streams remain intact and retain their important roles for downstream communities. Today’s ruling is a major setback towards not only protecting sensitive ecosystems but cultivating resilient rural economies.”
“Trump’s Supreme Court has gutted protections of wetlands, siding with big polluters and undermining long-standing statutory protections for clean water,” said Kelly Nordini CEO of Conservation Colorado. “Climate driven-drought is causing the worst drought conditions in the past 1,200 yrs and the last thing we need is the removal of protections for our water supplies. The overwhelming majority of people support stronger protections for water supplies, the Supreme Court’s decision is completely out of step with public consensus and Colorado will now need to take action to protect our water.”
“The right-wing majority on the Supreme Court chose to ignore the science, the clear intent of Congress in passing the Clean Water Act, and the many decades in which Congress and the courts carried out that intent,” said Demis Foster, executive director at Conservation Voters New Mexico. “In arid New Mexico, almost all surface waters could lose federal protection. It’s imperative that the legislature and the administration step up and protect the water that is so precious to New Mexico’s diverse communities, supporting farming, outdoor recreation, wildlife, and traditional cultural practices.”
Constitutional Accountability Center Appellate Counsel Miriam Becker-Cohen issued the following reaction: “As Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Kagan explained in their separate opinions concurring in the judgment, the Court’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act today puts “a thumb on the scale for property owners—no matter that the Act (i.e., the one Congress enacted) is all about stopping property owners from polluting. In other words, the Court abandoned the text of the law because it “believes Congress went too far.” This is not the first that we have seen the Court’s conservative majority take this atextualist approach to interpreting environmental protection statutes, and it is not, as Justice Kagan noted, “how the Constitution thinks our Government should work.” That the Court’s conservative majority would choose to substitute its policy judgments for those of Congress is deeply concerning. Equally concerning is Justice Thomas’s concurrence, which construes Congress’s power to regulate the waters of the United States in an exceedingly narrow fashion. The understanding of the Commerce Clause that Justice Thomas presents is at odds with the Clause’s text and history, as we explained in our brief. We are deeply disappointed with this decision and hope that Congress acts promptly to correct the Court’s offensive weakening of this landmark statute.”
“The Sackett decision undoes a half-century of progress generated by the Clean Water Act. Almost 90 million acres of formerly protected wetlands now face an existential threat from polluters and developers, said Sam Sankar, vice president of Programs at Earthjustice. “This decision is the culmination of industry’s decades-long push to get conservative courts to do what Congress refused to do. The Court’s decision to deregulate wetlands will hurt everyone living in the United States. Earthjustice will continue to fight to protect our waters to ensure the health of communities and ecosystems for decades to come. While Earthjustice and our allies are closely evaluating the impact of the Sackett decision on the new WOTUS regulation, we can say with certainty that the Court has once again given polluting industries and land developers a potent weapon that they will use to erode regulatory protections for wetlands and waterways around the country.”
John Rumpler, Environment America Research & Policy Center’s clean water program senior director released the following statement: “This Supreme Court decision represents a misguided interpretation of the Clean Water Act — our nation’s bedrock environmental law for more than 50 years. Congress explicitly referenced wetlands in the Clean Water Act, and courts have generally interpreted the law’s scope expansively – in light of its stated objective ‘to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.’ The Court’s 5-4 majority opinion explicitly rejected the much broader ‘significant nexus’ test for determining protected waters, which courts have generally followed since Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion in the Rapanos case in 2006. In short, today’s ruling in Sackett is the narrowest interpretation of the Act to ever receive five votes on the Court, and it puts many of our waterways at greater risk of pollution and degradation. From the Great Lakes to the Chesapeake Bay, America waterways depend on wetlands.They are the kidneys of our ecosystem, filtering out pollution that can threaten the health of swimmers, wildlife and our drinking water. Already, our nation has lost vast expanses of wetlands to sprawl, mining, pipelines and more. These wetlands also protect our communities from flooding — a need that only grows more urgent as climate change causes more torrential storms and rising sea levels. Yet today, our nation’s highest court chose to gut the Act’s protections for vast acres of wetlands, excluding all but those with a ‘continuous surface connection’ — the Court’s phrase, which appears nowhere in the Act itself — to a river, lake or other waterway. After this decision, the federal government — and citizens who rely on the Clean Water Act in court — will be powerless to stop developers, mining operators and oil and gas companies from degrading or polluting these wetlands, putting our wildlife, drinking water and communities at risk. Only Congress can restore these federal protections. In the meantime, it is imperative that state and local officials act immediately to adopt and enforce stronger policies to safeguard clean water and wetlands in particular.”
In response, Dr. Elizabeth Southerland, a volunteer with the Environmental Protection Network and former Director of Science and Technology in EPA’s Office of Water, released the following statement: “Today’s Supreme Court decision in Sackett v EPA is a major blow to the federal government’s goal to achieve no net loss of wetlands nationwide. Since 1989 the U.S. government has used Clean Water Act authority to either prevent the filling of wetlands or to permit filling only when an equal acreage of wetlands is reclaimed or restored. Wetland preservation is critical for providing flood control, absorbing pollutants, preventing shoreline erosion, storing carbon, and serving as a nursery for wildlife. Today’s decision is a big win for land developers and miners, who will now be free to destroy certain types of wetlands without paying for wetland reclamation. Today’s decision is a big loss for communities who will have to pay more to treat their drinking water and respond to increased flooding and shoreline erosion.”
Statement by Scott Strand, Senior Attorney, Environmental Law and Policy Center: “We are very disappointed with the Court’s decision. Everyone involved has understood for fifty years, since the Clean Water Act was passed, that protecting our nation’s lakes, rivers, and streams requires protecting upstream tributaries and adjacent wetlands as well. Wetlands hold and filter out pollutants, they retain stormwater and reduce flooding, they provide critical habitat for wildlife, and they soak up carbon. But now, contrary to the science and contrary to everyone’s reasonable expectations, most of those wetlands are going to lose federal protection. The Court clearly got this one wrong, at great cost to the environment and to taxpayers. Here in the Midwest, we have lost most of the wetlands the region once had, through indiscriminate drainage and development. The burden of protecting the wetlands we still have will now fall back on state and local governments, who have, at best, a checkered record. Unfortunately, the Court’s decision means dirtier water, more uncontrolled flooding, more net carbon emissions, and a significant loss of wildlife habitat.”
Jill Ryan, Executive Director of Freshwater Future stated, “Wetlands are critical resources for reducing flooding, filtering pollutants and providing critical areas for fish and wildlife to reproduce. In our Great Lakes region, this decision jeopardizes billions of dollars spent on restoring our waters and wetlands, puts homeowners at increased risk of flooding, and threatens the multi-billion dollar industry of fishing, wildlife viewing and recreation.”
Statement from Jean Mendoza, Executive Director of Friends of Toppenish Creek: “The Friends of Toppenish Creek in Washington State strongly oppose efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act, especially changes that allow degradation of wetlands. Wetlands are ecosystems that protect us from flooding, provide food, clean pollutants from groundwater, and are critical to wildlife. People in our community are fish eaters. The fish in Washington rivers, streams, and estuaries are under attack and need wetlands to survive.” You can view this statement in Spanish here.
Statement from Mariana Del Valle Prieto Cervantes, GreenLatinos Chief of Staff: “We know agua es vida and this decision unfortunately continues to catapult us into a world where communities are sacrificed for the “good” of the few. Water is a human right, and should not be treated as a commodity. Today, shamefully, the Supreme Court has aligned with polluters that want to control and manipulate people and the environment for their individual gains, making it harder to build a world where these harmful impacts to our communities are prevented and no longer tolerated. State officials and Congress must act quickly to remediate the implications of this decision. Nevertheless, we will continue building partnerships with our families, community leaders and environmental advocates to keep using all the safeguards we have in place to ensure all of us have access to clean, healthy, reliable, and affordable water for drinking, recreation, economic stability, and both mental and physical health. Our work for environmental liberation continues. ” You can view this statement in Spanish here.
Statement from Ean Tafoya, Colorado State Director of GreenLatinos: “WOTUS protections are essential for Colorado waterways. Here in the Headwaters State we know that at least half of our waterways are impacted by this rule. Millions of people are downstream from Colorado and we bear the responsibility of protecting the water. If these rules are weakened then we believe Colorado will step up our protective laws, but what is unfortunate is that we believe these protections are as important here as they are to Alabama, Montana or any other state.“ You can view this statement in Spanish here.
Statement from Maxine Rebeles, GreenLatinos member in Laredo, TX: “As a kid I had no idea that here in Laredo, TX, we only had one source of water, nor did I know that we should be protecting it and preserving it. It wasn’t til I returned from the Navy with children of my own and realized how bad our water was when I gave my kids water out of the faucet the way my mother used to do with me. My kids got sick and I realized just how worse it had gotten. It didn’t stop though. It seems that people always want to come to our city and build a useless wall to “protect” us from all these made up enemies or crises but won’t do anything to protect our people from the lead, carcinogens, and other potentially deadly contaminants in our water. I’m so sick of politicians using us for votes. If you care about us, help us protect our water!” You can view this statement in Spanish here.
“While today’s ruling is truly disheartening, it highlights the importance of electing candidates with an understanding of the science of ecology. Judges are only meant to interpret the intent of laws, therefore it is incumbent that our Federal delegates be literate in the ecological importance of our most precious and increasingly scarce resource – water. A clear and concise definition of “Waters of the United States,” with the broad protections that were foundationally intended by the Clean Water Act, would have rendered this lawsuit moot and saved hundreds of thousands of wetlands, and ultimately rivers, from the multitude of threats that will undoubtedly inundate them through this ruling,” said Nic Nelson, Executive Director of Idaho Rivers United.
“Today the Court has eliminated protections for a vital link of our waterways, with no consideration of wetlands’ essential role in protecting our drinking water, dispersing floodwaters and providing critical habitat for fish and wildlife,” said Jared Mott, Conservation Director for the Izaak Walton League of America. “In doing so, the Court went out of its way to ignore the plain language of the Clean Water Act that clearly articulates congressional intent to protect wetlands adjacent to other jurisdictional waters like rivers and streams. This ruling defies science, the law and common sense by simply pretending that waters deemed ‘navigable’ cannot be impacted by pollution in adjacent wetlands.”
Jillian Blanchard, Director of the Climate Change and Environmental Justice Program at Lawyers for Good Government, said: “By disregarding established science and removing critical safeguards, the Court has failed the most vulnerable among us, including indigenous communities, communities of color, and those already facing the brunt of climate disasters. This decision, even narrower in scope than the previous Trump administration’s Clean Water Rule, undermines the progress made in preserving our water resources. It is imperative that Congress and state officials swiftly step up to protect our water bodies to ensure the well-being of future generations. Despite this setback, Lawyers for Good Government, in collaboration with the Clean Water for All Coalition, will continue to provide vital legal resources to advocates and state decision makers, standing up for the right to water and working tirelessly to mitigate the devastating consequences of this ruling. Together, we will continue fighting to defend our ecosystems and ensure a sustainable future for all.”
“Today the captured Supreme Court once again decided to put the profits of polluters ahead of what’s best for our health and environment,” said League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Deputy Legislative Director Madeleine Foote. “Since the Clean Water Act’s passage, polluters and their allies have tried to undermine the EPA’s ability to protect the waters our families depend on, and now this extremist court has disregarded science, the law, and basic common sense to grant them their wish. By allowing polluters to destroy our critical wetlands and other important waters, this decision will increase flooding and lead to more pollution, jeopardizing the health of our communities, especially the health of communities of color and low-wealth communities who are disproportionately impacted by water pollution. Congress must fix the damage done by this Supreme Court by passing new legislation to safeguard our waters, and to expand and rebalance the Supreme Court.”
Statement by Charles Miller, Missouri Confluence Waterkeepers: “This decision continues a troubling trend at our highest court that elevates private property interests at the expense of longstanding laws protecting public health and the environment. It is even more troubling when the case involves the most critical resource we have: water. We need Congress to step up to provide clarity and restore commonsense protections for our nation’s water and wetlands. Unfortunately, we will also have to hope that if Congress passes such a law, that this Court does not invent more reasons to overrule Congress’ clearly announced intent, as they did on Thursday. Despite this catastrophic decision, Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper will continue to advocate for policies that protect wetlands Big polluters and their cronies may have won this round, but MCW will continue to fight to protect Missourians’ rights to swimmable, fishable, drinkable water, through advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels.
Statement by Chad Lord, Senior Director of Environmental Policy and Climate Change for the National Parks Conservation Association: “Today’s decision deals another blow to decades of collaborative work to clean up our nation’s waterways. It prioritizes polluters over clean drinking water for millions of people and jeopardizes the waters that flow through our communities and our national parks. The Environmental Protection Agency was created more than 50 years ago to protect human health and our environment from known pollution and today their hands are tied by the Court ignoring America’s overwhelming support for more protections – not less. With communities in America today still living with unsafe drinking water and more than two-thirds of our national park waters impaired we cannot stand for this. Many national park waters originate outside their borders and depend on strong Clean Water Act protections for the health of the park, wildlife and visitors who swim and fish park waters. The Court has failed the most vulnerable communities – namely those on the frontlines, facing the intensifying climate crisis and pollution in already underserved areas and Tribal communities. From water-based parks like America’s Everglades and Biscayne to those rich with wetlands like Indiana Dunes and the Great Smokies – water is the lifeblood of our parks. From the impacts of climate change to drinking water crises, algal blooms and drought, cleaner water works in tandem with restoration investments already underway in and around our parks. When we prioritize clean water for people and parks, we promote businesses, tourism and recreational opportunities that draw record visitors to these places, and billions in economic support to the gateway communities that surround them. Congress must work fast to limit the damage and permanently protect our nation’s waters for drinking, recreating and fueling our local economies.”
“For 50 years the Clean Water Act has been instrumental in revitalizing and safeguarding drinking water sources for people and wildlife, wetlands for flood control, and habitats that sustain our wildlife heritage,” said Jim Murphy, director of legal advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation. “Federal protections that don’t depend on local politics or regional polluter influence are essential to vulnerable and disadvantaged communities nationwide. The court’s ruling removes these vital protections from important streams and wetlands in every state. We call on both Congress and state governments to step in, plug the gap, and protect our threatened waters and the people that depend on them.” You can view this statement in Spanish here.
Manish Bapna, president and CEO of NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), made the following statement: “The Supreme Court ripped the heart out of the law we depend on to protect American waters and wetlands. The majority chose to protect polluters at the expense of healthy wetlands and waterways. This decision will cause incalculable harm. Communities across the country will pay the price. What’s important now is to repair the damage. The government must enforce the remaining provisions of law that protect the clean water we all rely on for drinking, swimming, fishing, irrigation and more. States should quickly strengthen their own laws. Congress needs to act to restore protections for all our waters. We’ll stand with frontline communities, scientists, health professionals and others to press for the responsible clean water protections we need.”
“This decision undoes decades of efforts to ensure clean water protections across the country,” said Tricia Snyder, senior water policy analyst for New Mexico Wild. “By significantly reducing the scope of the Clean Water Act, the decision in Sackett v. EPA opens millions of acres of wetlands to pollution. New Mexico has been particularly affected by the back and forth in clean water protections and rather than clarifying, this decision serves to only confuse the matter further. New Mexico’s communities, cultures, traditions, ecosystems, and economy all depend on access to clean water. It is critical that we now work at the state and local levels to protect our state’s waters to build climate resiliency and sustainable and equitable water systems that ensure access to clean, safe water for communities across New Mexico.”
Statement from Melanie Houston, Managing Director of Water Policy for the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC): “The Supreme Court’s decision has once again placed itself on the side of polluters, rather than people and the environment. We already know that climate change increases the frequency and severity of floods — an extreme weather event that wetlands help mitigate naturally. Ohioans will be burdened with increased costs for storm recovery, clean-up, stormwater management, and critical infrastructure to adapt to high incidence flooding events. In the last few years, the State of Ohio has recreated more than 80 wetlands across the state through Governor DeWine’s H2Ohio water quality restoration initiative. We urge the Governor and Ohio General Assembly to continue their statewide efforts to reduce harmful algal blooms and nutrient runoff by restoring Ohio’s wetland legacy — rather than following the footsteps of this federal clean water rollback. Without continued state protection or new federal protections, the Supreme Court’s decision opens the door for polluters to further degrade Ohio’s wetlands.”
Statement from Ronald Zorrilla, CEO of Outdoor Promise: “The integrity of our water is paramount to our collective survival, for it unites us as deeply as the earth itself. As the Supreme Court deliberates Sackett v. EPA, we must remember that undermining the Clean Water Act would expose vulnerable communities, particularly Latino/a/x, low-income, Indigenous, and communities of color, to even greater pollution and hardship. With 71% of Latino/a/x people already concerned about water pollution, the court must recognize the gravity of this decision and uphold the Clean Water Act’s safeguards, ensuring the protection of our vital ecosystems and the health of all communities for generations to come.” You can view this statement in Spanish here.
Statement from Juan Roberto Madrid, President of Por Tu Salud, LLC: “At Por Tu Salud,LLC we are extremely concerned about the Sackett v. EPA case so we urge the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Clean Water Act to ensure that wetlands are deserving of federal protection. We know that wetlands are critical habitats for fish, waterfowl, and other wildlife. They also purify polluted waters and protect communities from the destructive power of floods and storms. This is particularly important now, as communities are already struggling with extreme weather and natural disasters brought on by the climate crisis. In Colorado there is no state program to protect certain wetlands and waterways from dredging, filling and other damage if they’re not covered by the Clean Water Act. Colorado has always relied on the federal government’s program for dredge and fill permits which is why it is critical that the U.S. The Supreme Court to rule in favor of the EPA and decided that wetlands deserve federal protection.” You can view this statement in Spanish here.
“The status of our wetlands and small streams has been in legal limbo for years, but the actual, on-the-ground situation of our waters has been very apparent. It’s dire. The state of Illinois has been radically transformed through the destruction of most of its historical prairies and wetlands. Agriculture and industry continue to pollute our rivers, lakes, and wetlands, and contaminate our drinking water. Regardless of how the Supreme Court limits the reach of federal laws and regulatory agencies, we already know we need stronger protections at the state level. Where the Supreme Court failed, Governor Pritzker and the Illinois legislature must now step up to protect clean water for Illinoisans,” said Robert Hirschfeld, Prairie Rivers Network Senior Water Policy Specialist.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling delivers a catastrophic blow to our ability to protect our communities from pollution and climate disasters,” said April Ingle, Advocacy Director at River Network. “Our communities, our drinking water, the places we fish, swim and boat, and our fish and wildlife are now much more vulnerable to the devasting impacts of floods, droughts, and pollution. We need Congress and state officials across the country to act fast to protect these critical waters.”
Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous issued the following statement: “The Supreme Court’s ruling in Sackett v. EPA is profoundly wrong and directly at odds with the statute Congress enacted 50 years ago – a statute the public supported then, and continues to support today. Access to clean, safe, reliable water is a fundamental human right, and it is deeply disappointing that the Court has sided with polluters and the industry to roll back the clock on clean water protections. As a result of this decision, millions of Americans will have less safe drinking water than the generation before them. Many things have changed in the 50 years since Congress passed the bedrock Clean Water Act – but not our understanding of how critical it is to protect and maintain clean water for every American regardless of skin color, zip code, or income, and not the greed of corporate polluters who would destroy them for their own profit. The American people deserve better than having their clean water sold to the highest bidder. This decision highlights the power and importance of judges and Justices to public health and our environmental priorities. This fight is far from over. The Sierra Club will continue to fight until every person in this country has access to clean, reliable, safe water for drinking and recreation.”
“Families and communities are now at greater risk from pollution and flooding because the Supreme Court abandoned longstanding clean water protections and decades of consistent bipartisan practice,” said Nick Torrey, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which filed a friend of the court brief in the case. “To try to make up for the bedrock protections taken away from people today, we will all need to make our voices heard to demand stronger clean water protections. The Southern Environmental Law Center will keep fighting to protect communities and clean water using every tool at our disposal.”
Statement from the Surfrider Foundation: “The Surfrider Foundation is saddened by today’s decision in EPA v. Sackett. The decision departs significantly from long standing legal and regulatory interpretation and will severely undermine the federal Clean Water Act’s express goals of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters. At a time when the U.S. should be more protective against climate impacts on water resources, this decision significantly narrows protections under the Act for wetlands across the country, thereby increasing water pollution and flooding risks, and threatening coastal resources and recreation which are treasured by the Surfrider Foundation, our members, and supporters. We are closely reviewing the decision and will continue to fight for clean water and safe recreation for all.”
Unrig the Courts coalition issued the following statement: “The majority opinion in Sackett, delivered by Justice Alito and the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court, will greatly limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to protect our waters, will have a devastating effect on our health and environment, and will disproportionately impact marginalized communities who suffer most from the impacts of pollution and environmental injustice. This isn’t the first time the MAGA-friendly conservative justices who control the Supreme Court have thrown our planet under the bus. Just last year, they severely curtailed the EPA’s authority to regulate fossil fuel emissions and fight climate change under the Clean Air Act. Now they’re coming for our water too, with no plans to slow their pace of dismantling our most fundamental environmental laws. Today’s ruling is yet another attack on overwhelmingly popular environmental and public health safeguards by justices who were installed by extreme Republican politicians and special interests who care more about polluter profits than the health of our families. Congress must take action to protect our waters and address the existential threat posed by a radical Supreme Court by passing the Judiciary Act and adding four seats to the Court.”
Statement from the Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans: “Sadly, the Supreme Court’s ruling narrows five decades of clean water protections, threatening environmental and public health across the nation. Their decision put profits before people, ignoring scientific evidence and decades of proof that clean water measures are vital to the sustainability of our nation. Now, it is up to Congress and individual states to decide the fate of the communities they serve. With 2.5 million acres of wetlands in Louisiana, our state’s communities and ecosystems are now at greater risk. Wetlands are integral in protecting neighboring areas from flooding, particularly in the face of increasingly frequent and intense hurricanes and tropical storms. A loss in wetland protections will likely lead to increased property damage, flood insurance rates, and losses of life, and decreased drinking water quality and wildlife diversity. Today’s Supreme Court decision will adversely impact the aquaculture, recreation, and natural resources Louisiana depends on to thrive—unless our elected officials take action. The Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans stands with environmental, community, and public health advocates to support stronger wetland protections across Louisiana and the United States.”
Statement from Waterkeepers Chesapeake: “Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision is profoundly wrong. It is deeply disappointing that the court has sided with polluters and taken away people’s rights under the Clean Water Act. By embracing the extreme demands of big polluters, the court is placing our communities, public health, and local ecosystems in danger. By giving landowners, developers and polluters permission to bulldoze and fill in wetlands and streams, we will have a dramatic increase in disasters from extreme storms due to climate change. Our communities that are most vulnerable to pollution and climate disasters – indigenous communities, communities of color, rural and low-income communities – will pay the highest price. Wetlands are crucial to protecting our communities by providing essential habitats for plants and animals that support our region’s seafood industry and outdoor recreation and tourism sectors. Wetlands act like sponges absorbing storm surge and flood waters containing polluted runoff, and are carbon sinks that are even more effective than forests. The unanimous decision causes confusion and undercuts the EPA’s science-based regulations. Four justices in a concurring opinion noted that the majority’s significantly narrowed test for waters of the United States will leave millions of acres of previously protected wetlands vulnerable with “significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States.” Our congressional and state officials need to act fast to protect water bodies that we all rely on for drinking, fishing, and fueling local economies, and to do right by our most vulnerable communities.”
“In New Mexico, streams, lakes, and wetlands sustain our state’s culture, traditions, communities, wildlife and ecosystems, and economy, and must be protected,” said Western Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Tannis Fox. “In Sackett v. EPA, the current results-oriented, activist majority of the Supreme Court has turned the Clean Water Act on its head, gutting federal protections for waters across the nation—but New Mexico and the arid western U.S. will be hardest hit. New Mexico’s Congressional delegation should lead the charge in Congress to restore Clean Water Act protections and the state of New Mexico should move swiftly to establish its own surface water permitting program to protect our state’s streams and wetlands.”
Statement from Wisconsin Wetlands Association: Yesterday’s ruling is the latest development in a more than 50-year dispute over the meaning of specific terms in the statutes. And it is consequential. We’ve learned a lot in 50 years of wetland science, including that all waters are connected, and that clean water and safe communities are not possible without abundant and healthy wetlands. Unfortunately, federal policy no longer reflects this truth. It will take a grassroots movement and an act of Congress to correct that. In the meantime, the Wisconsin Wetlands Association will continue to do what we’ve done for the last 53 years. This includes working to maintain and develop statewide wetland policies and programs, promoting understanding of wetlands, increasing public and private investments in wetlands conservation, and helping local communities protect and restore wetlands to solve problems.