News from a Changing Planet -- #34 -- When the Courts Break the Law
Why the Supreme Court's recent ruling on wetlands under the Clean Water Act is so devastating.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority decided that it knows better than environmental scientists and experts what constitutes a wetland and how hydrology works. It ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency only has authority over wetlands that have a continuous surface connection to larger bodies of waters, like rivers and lakes, which leaves more than half of the country's wetlands possibly without protection from pollution or development.
[It also connects to a story I wrote for the New York Times this week, which you can read here, but keep reading *this* to understand why!]
The problems are many, but they stem from the fact that that’s not how wetlands work. Wetlands can be ephemeral, becoming wetlands seasonally, or after rainstorms. Water also flows underground. It’s called groundwater. Just because Samuel Alito can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Unsurprisingly, this is a gift to industry: agriculture, development, maybe even pastificios in New Jersey. (That last one is a joke!) This ruling means that polluters can dump in wetlands with no penalty or oversight from the federal government. I know there are good faith arguments, particularly from farmers, about the overregulation of some bodies of water, but I also know that about a third of the country relies on ephemeral sources of water for its drinking water. Protecting these waters from chemical or organic pollutants should be a basic role for the federal government, because it is part of what ought to be a fundamental right: clean water for all Americans and a safe and healthy environment.
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