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When does a puddle become a navigable water subject to the administration of the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the Army Corps of Engineers (“Army”)? Before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Sackett et UX v. EPA et al., this was a matter solely within the discretion of the EPA and the Army. In 2023, the Supreme Court determined that the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) applied only to navigable waters, which are “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water forming streams, oceans, rivers and lakes.” Id. at 20. According to the Supreme Court, “wetlands that are separate from traditional navigable waters cannot be considered part of those waters, even if located nearby. Only those wetlands which are identifiable from the waters are included within the CWA.” Id.

In 2004, the Sacketts purchased a small lot of land near Priest Lake, Idaho with the express intention of building a house on that lot. To accomplish this, the Sacketts filled in the lot with dirt and rocks to level it. A few months after the filling of the lot, the Sacketts received a letter from the EPA informing them that the backfilling violated the CWA because the property at issue included wetlands. The Sacketts were told that if the lot was not returned to its original condition, they would be subject to fines of up to $40,000 per day. The EPA determined that the Sacketts’ property was on wetlands because it was adjacent to an unnamed tributary on the other side of a 30-foot road. That tributary fed into a non-navigable creek which in turn fed into Priest Lake, a navigable body of water. 5. As a result, the EPA accused the Sacketts of dumping soil and gravel into “waters of the United States.”
Faced with huge fines, the Sacketts filed under the Administrative Procedure Act claiming that the EPA had no jurisdiction over their property because there were not any wetlands on that property. The Sacketts faced seven years of proceedings. Ultimately, the District Court found in favor of the EPA and this favorable ruling was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit. The Supreme Court accepted certiorari to make a final determination as to the outer boundaries of the CWA as it applies to the “waters of the United States.”
    The Supreme Court found that the CWA was passed in 1972 to regulate the discharge of pollutants into navigable bodies of water. Included in the CWA were provisions for fines up to $60,000 per day for violations of the Act. As the EPA’s interpretation of the CWA evolved, the EPA assumed jurisdiction over any so-called wetlands which were adjacent to or neighboring navigable waters. As the Supreme Court reviewed the jurisdiction assumed by the EPA, it found that over several years, the EPA  had asserted jurisdiction over “prairie potholes, wet meadows and natural ponds,” and only excluded “puddles and swimming pools.”  Id. at 11.
    Finding that the EPA’s definition of “waters” was unreasonably vague, the Supreme Court found that such a definition made it difficult for property owners to know if their property would be considered wetlands under the CWA. The very vagueness of the EPA’s definition made it impossible to enforce, as the penalties attached to that definition amounted to enormous fines and certain criminal penalties. Moreover, the EPA’s definition of “waters” removed any jurisdiction over waters from the States which was not the intention of the CWA. 
         The Supreme Court overruled the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case back for rulings consistent with this decision. Hopefully, the Sacketts will be able to build their home before the next millennium.

Case Link

Summary by Davida Scher
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Dad Jokes

Did you hear Bruce Springsteen changed the lyrics to one of his songs? What’s he going to change next—his hair? His clothes? His face?

This year’s Fibonacci convention is going to be really special. Apparently it’s as big as the last two put together.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. At least it does if you throw it hard enough.

I’m addicted to collecting vintage Beatles albums. I need Help.
In 2017 I didn't do a marathon. I didn't do one in 2018, 2019, or 2020, either. This is a running joke.

Not to brag but I made six figures last year. I was also named worst employee at the toy factory.

Ever since we started quarantining, I've only been telling inside jokes.

If you're feeling depressed, try drinking a gallon of water before you go to sleep. It'll give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

My landlord told me we need to talk about the heating bill. "Sure," I said. "My door is always open."

I built a model of Mount Everest and my son asked if it was to scale. "No," I said. "It's to look at."

What has five toes and isn't your foot? My foot.

My friend claims he glued himself to his autobiography. I don't believe him, but that's his story and he's sticking to it.

When I was a kid, my mother told me I could be anyone I wanted to be. Turns out, identity theft is a crime.

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