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Ranchers say court ruling helps property rights, environmentalists disappointed

Supreme Court
Posted at 6:29 AM, Jun 02, 2023

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on an Idaho case last week that cut EPA's authority to regulate certain wetlands.

The case concerns property rights and the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate under the Clean Water Act.

Potentially, it could have affected water on ranches and how ranchers work with their cattle.

A stream on the Stovall Ranches near Pryor proved a drinking source for cattle.

And it's land that some say could have been greatly impacted, had the court not overturned a lower court's ruling.

"The ultimate concern is does that put in question if an animal can water?" Turk Stovall about his cattle's water. "Does that put in question if I put a pump in that stream? Is that okay or not?"

Those are concerns more before the ruling.

Stovall is also second vice president for the Montana Stockgrowers Association and has closely been following the case.

In Sackett v. EPA, the court limited the EPAs ability to oversee certain water, determining that the agency cannot regulate wetlands that are isolated from larger bodies of water.

In the document, the court states:
"To assert jurisdiction over an adjacent wetland under the (Clean Water Act), a party must establish “first, that the adjacent [body of
water constitutes] . . . ‘water[s] of the United States’ (i.e., a relatively
permanent body of water connected to traditional interstate navigable
waters); and second, that the wetland has a continuous surface con-
nection with that water, making it difficult to determine where the
‘water’ ends and the ‘wetland’ begins.”"

Waters Of The United States include streams, rivers, lakes or oceans.

"The ruling was really a sigh of relief," Stovall said.

But not all Montanans agree with that.

"It's particularly bad because the seeds it plants for future attacks on statutes like the Clean Water Act, that fundamentally protect the public's right to fishable, swimable, drinkable water," said Guy Alsentzer, Upper Missouri Waterkeeperexecutive director.

Alsentzer's group works to protect the Upper Missouri River Basin.

He's concerned about the ruling's potential long-term impact on the environment.

"There's not a surface water connection, year-round between these two," Alsentzer said about what the ruling does. "It doesn't get protection. That is an incredibly narrow new test."

But for Stovall, the case points to the importance of a person's property rights and the ability to defend themselves as with the Sacketts' case, which started in 2007.

The family began building a home near Priest Lake, Idaho and were ordered to stop by the EPA, which asserted the property contained protected wetlands.

"There's not very many individuals that can be in a lawsuit against the federal government for 15 years," Stovall said.

It's an important ruling with wide-reaching impacts in Idaho, Montana, and nationwide.

"The brand new novel definition that throws science out the door," Alsentzer said.

"It's something for you to be educated on and follow," Stovall said.