Murkowski: Supreme Court’s WOTUS Ruling is a Victory for Alaska

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) issued the following statement after the Supreme Court ruling which narrowed the scope of EPA’s authority to regulate wetlands under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Court’s opinion in the case of Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency will limit the “outer reaches” of EPA’s long-contested definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS).

“I congratulate and commend Mike and Chantell Sackett, individual citizens who, like John Sturgeon, faced clear regulatory overreach, brought suit against it, persevered over the course of years, and prevailed with a Supreme Court victory,” Murkowski said. “The Supreme Court’s ruling should end EPA’s ability to overregulate tens of millions of acres of land across Alaska—leaving that regulation to the State, instead, and providing for a more common sense permitting process for countless projects. Going forward, I expect the Biden administration to withdraw the rule it proposed to further expand CWA regulation and to issue a revised proposal that is faithful to the Court’s decision.”   

All nine Justices ruled that the Sacketts’ property in Idaho should not be regulated as a “water of the United States” under the CWA. A majority of justices further ruled that “the CWA extends to only those ‘wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are ‘waters of the United States’ in their own right,’ so that they are ‘indistinguishable’ from those waters.” Prior to this ruling, EPA repeatedly sought to expand what qualifies as a “water of the United States” – and thus the scope of its regulatory power under the CWA – far beyond congressional intent.

In 2004, the Sacketts purchased property in Bonner County, Idaho, with the intent of building a house on it. EPA “classified the wetlands on the Sacketts’ lot as ‘waters of the United States’ because they were near a ditch that fed into a creek, which fed into Priest Lake, a navigable, intrastate lake.” EPA “informed the Sacketts that their property contained wetlands and that their backfilling violated the Clean Water Act…[EPA] ordered the Sacketts to restore the site, threatening penalties of over $40,000 per day.”