SUPREME COURT TO HEAR CASE WHICH COULD UNDERMINE CLEAN WATER ACT-Andrew Stelzer

02/20/06

Two cases being heard by the US supreme court on Tuesday may have enormous consequences for the future of Americans wetlands, the continued existence of the Federal clean water act, and are being watched closely by advocates for private property rights. As WMNFs Andrew Stelzer reports, environmental advocates are concerned that the first case heard by Justice Samuel Alito could set the tone for a steep decline in the protection of Americas water systems.

In the 2 Michigan cases which have made their way to the Supreme court, Lower courts ruled that the Clean Water Act of 1972, allows federal agencies to prevent pollution not just of large bodies of water, but of small wetlands that impact larger waterways, even those which are miles away. The suits were filed by landowners who wanted to fill in and develop wetlands. One filled 50 acres of wetlands with sand in the 1980’s so the land could be sold to a shopping mall developer. In the second case, developers wanted to build condos on land that included 16 acres of wetlands. In both cases, the landowners were sued and lost in court, but their appeals have brought the question Jim Murphy, is the National Wildlife federations Wetlands attorney, he’s hopeful the court backs the Michigan courts decision.

ACT-Jim “the court is being asked 2 questions, the fist is does congress cover these bodies of water…the second is if they are under the commerce clause, if the court says no congress can not protect intrastate and interstates, then not only would that eviscerate the clean water act protection. “

Attorneys for the petitioners say that the case is an issue of property rights, but Murphy says that’s not true, because bodies of water extend beyond any one property.

ACT-Jim ‘Petitioners are asking the court to let them…the company’s are trying to convince that they can pollute..its like watering a tree but poisoning its roots…this would be a setback..�

Murphy says a ruling against congress’ ability of regulates small bodies of water under the clean water act would remove federal oversight over an important part of American ecosystems. Scott Yaich is the director of conservation programs for Ducks unlimited

ACT-Scott “the country water foul fish, etc can little afford to have tens of million of wetlands destroyed..�

Even if the court rules against the clean water act, state laws to protect wetlands and tributaries to various water quality standards will still apply in 19 or 20 states, but Jim says that’s not good enough because many bodies of water are shared by several states-he uses Michigan as an example.

ACT-Jim “Michigan shares bodies of water, so essentially they would lose out..�

Scott also points out the safety issues that could be affected, as was seen in the gulf coast, when the destruction of wetlands increased the amount of water pushing on levees that eventually broke and flooded new Orleans.

ACT-Scott “I go back to the floods of 1993, those floods were as damaging as they were, they would not have been as great except for the fact that across the landscape we lost half or more of the wetlands, when they were there, they all held water, it rushes into eth tributaries and exacerbated, so even an individual wetland in a way it still is linked because it cant hold the water it would normally held and protect downstream interest against flooding..�

In Florida, wetlands have been filled in and paved over at an alarming rate; Murphy says that’s already true around the country.

ACT-Jim “in the context of filling ditches, the court approves well over 90% of them anyway, and many under general permit, so the briefs of petitioners are exaggerated..most development are allowed to go forward, but if you remove the acts power, you will have huge negative impacts..�

The case will be the first heard by newly appointed Justice Samuel Alito. A decision will likely not be issued at least until later this summer.

For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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