The Supreme Court on Thursday made it harder for the federal government to police water pollution in a decision that strips protections from wetlands that are isolated from larger bodies of water.
It’s the second decision in as many years in which a conservative majority of the court narrowed the reach of environmental regulations.
The justices boosted property rights over concerns about clean water in a ruling in favor of an Idaho couple who sought to build a house near Priest Lake in the state’s panhandle. They objected when federal officials identified a soggy portion of the property as a wetlands that required them to get a permit before building.
By a 5-4 vote, the court said that wetlands can only be regulated if they have a “continuous surface connection” to larger, regulated bodies of water.
The court jettisoned the 17-year-old opinion by their former colleague, Anthony Kennedy, that allowed regulation of wetlands that have a “significant nexus” to the larger waterways.
Environmental advocates had predicted that the narrowing the reach of the Clean Water Act would strip protections from more than half the wetlands in the country.