Disastrous Supreme Court Ruling Underscores Importance of Wisconsin’s Wetland Protections

Wetland near Spider Lake in Wisconsin

The U.S. Supreme Court has significantly weakened the Clean Water Act with Thursday’s Sackett vs. EPA ruling, and the implications for our nation’s waters are far-reaching. The Court removed countless wetlands from federal protection by ruling that wetlands only qualify for protection if they have a continuous surface water connection to another waterbody. 

“This decision is inconsistent with the text, history, and fundamental purpose of the Clean Water Act. It is also inconsistent with uncontested scientific knowledge about the importance of wetlands. The Court’s distinction between wetlands with and without a continuous surface water connection is not one recognized by nature. Consequently, due to this ruling, wetlands that have a direct, irreplaceable role in preserving the water quality and flow of a river, lake, or stream will nonetheless be left unprotected by federal law,” says Clean Wisconsin Attorney Evan Feinauer.   

Feinauer notes that while this ruling does not directly change state wetland law, it still harms wetlands in our state. 

“With reduced federal protection for wetlands within Wisconsin’s borders, we’ll lose the value of joint review by both federal and state officials of many wetland fill project permit requests. This could have an impact on larger projects like the proposed Line 5 oil pipeline reroute in Northern Wisconsin. Wisconsin also has exemptions under state law that allow filling of certain “non-federal” wetlands without a permit. So as the amount of federally-protected wetlands shrinks as a result of this decision, the size of that exemption grows, allowing more unpermitted destruction of state wetlands. 

The Court’s misguided decision underscores how critical it is to protect Wisconsin’s wetlands laws, because the federal government may not be there as a backstop in the same way going forward.”