Oral arguments for Sackett v. EPA stick to semantics as SCOTUS poised to damage Clean Water Act next

The start of the October 2022 Supreme Court term began with the highest court in the U.S. hearing oral arguments in the case Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, a case in which the term “navigable waters” as included in the Clean Water Act could drastically change if the majority-conservative Supreme Court has its way. A recent interview with the Sackett’s lawyer, Damien Schiff, gets to the heart of the matter as the Sacketts look at it: Are the wetlands the Sacketts so desperately want to destroy to complete their dream property near Idaho’s Priest Lake subject to federal permits? Schiff, throughout his arguments on Monday, stuck to dictionary definitions, such as what truly constitutes abutment when it comes to where the wetlands end and nearby waterways begin, or if they intersect at all. He attempted to paint a portrait of his clients suffering for years at the hands of the EPA, having been targeted over the wetlands on their property despite having neighbors who were able to build without interest in how their construction may harm the environment. Schiff made it seem, especially toward the end of his rebuttal, that the Sacketts would be spending exorbitant amounts in order to obtain the permit they needed. There truly appears to be no evidence that the Sacketts repeatedly litigating this issue is more cost-effective than simply sucking it up and trying to get the permits they need that they clearly knew they needed despite Schiff saying otherwise. Pollock Cohen associate Max Rodriguez has a detailed breakdown on the entire oral argument process, from Schiff’s opening statements to the points raised by Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher. Fletcher con'd: Also pictures, also Sacketts' own enviro consultant confirmed it's wetlands.— Max Rodriguez (he/him) (@Max_E_Rodriguez) October 3, 2022 It’s worth noting that Schiff has an interesting history with this case, having stood by the Sacketts’ side for quite some time, including when a case of theirs was first brought before the Supreme Court. The present Sackett v. EPA case, as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse noted, reached SCOTUS in part because the polluters interested in the Clean Water Act drastically changed in their favor. If the phrase “navigable waters” was limited in definition, vital wetlands—and many other critical bodies of water—would no longer fall under the Clean Water Act’s protections. A thread from Earthjustice lays bare the very real possibility that this could become a reality given the current makeup of the court. The Sacketts want the court to rule that the law only protects wetlands that are physically indistinguishable from navigable water bodies like rivers and lakes. In the courtroom, even some conservative justices acknowledged that this would defy the text and purposes of the act.— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) October 3, 2022 The Supreme Court is expected to issue a formal ruling on this case early next year.

Oral arguments for Sackett v. EPA stick to semantics as SCOTUS poised to damage Clean Water Act next

The start of the October 2022 Supreme Court term began with the highest court in the U.S. hearing oral arguments in the case Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, a case in which the term “navigable waters” as included in the Clean Water Act could drastically change if the majority-conservative Supreme Court has its way. A recent interview with the Sackett’s lawyer, Damien Schiff, gets to the heart of the matter as the Sacketts look at it: Are the wetlands the Sacketts so desperately want to destroy to complete their dream property near Idaho’s Priest Lake subject to federal permits?

Schiff, throughout his arguments on Monday, stuck to dictionary definitions, such as what truly constitutes abutment when it comes to where the wetlands end and nearby waterways begin, or if they intersect at all. He attempted to paint a portrait of his clients suffering for years at the hands of the EPA, having been targeted over the wetlands on their property despite having neighbors who were able to build without interest in how their construction may harm the environment. Schiff made it seem, especially toward the end of his rebuttal, that the Sacketts would be spending exorbitant amounts in order to obtain the permit they needed.

There truly appears to be no evidence that the Sacketts repeatedly litigating this issue is more cost-effective than simply sucking it up and trying to get the permits they need that they clearly knew they needed despite Schiff saying otherwise. Pollock Cohen associate Max Rodriguez has a detailed breakdown on the entire oral argument process, from Schiff’s opening statements to the points raised by Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher.

Fletcher con'd: Also pictures, also Sacketts' own enviro consultant confirmed it's wetlands.

— Max Rodriguez (he/him) (@Max_E_Rodriguez) October 3, 2022

It’s worth noting that Schiff has an interesting history with this case, having stood by the Sacketts’ side for quite some time, including when a case of theirs was first brought before the Supreme Court. The present Sackett v. EPA case, as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse noted, reached SCOTUS in part because the polluters interested in the Clean Water Act drastically changed in their favor. If the phrase “navigable waters” was limited in definition, vital wetlands—and many other critical bodies of water—would no longer fall under the Clean Water Act’s protections. A thread from Earthjustice lays bare the very real possibility that this could become a reality given the current makeup of the court.

The Sacketts want the court to rule that the law only protects wetlands that are physically indistinguishable from navigable water bodies like rivers and lakes. In the courtroom, even some conservative justices acknowledged that this would defy the text and purposes of the act.

— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) October 3, 2022

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a formal ruling on this case early next year.