A man's hand in a blue glove takes a close-up of water into a test tube to measure water pollution. Background

Did the 9th Circuit Just Let the EPA ‘Fudge’ the Numbers on Water Pollution?

Ever since the Clean Water Act of 1972 dramatically overhauled the way in which America, through the EPA, monitors and protects its waterways, there has been the struggle between the literal life-and-death need for clean water, and the cold, hard reality that people can, will, and sometimes-have-to release pollutants into the water as part of American life.

The balancing mechanism, however, is built right into the act itself in the form of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program.

As the program dictates, …

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blurred river

House Eyes New Version of the Clean Water Act in Response to Recent U.S. Supreme Court Decision

In what has already been a major year for the Clean Water Act, there’s now another attempt to redefine its scope.

On October 17, the Clean Water Act of 2023 was introduced by ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM) and 114 House Democrats.

The proposed bill — H.R. 5983 — comes on the heels of the U.S. …

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Gavel on sounding block

CWA Alert: Supreme Court Unanimously Rejects Executive Agencies’ Interpretation of the Clean Water Act

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency continues its trend of limiting executive agencies, such as EPA, from expanding their authority when faced with statutory ambiguity — ambiguity such agencies have used to extend their reach to places and activities over which Congress has not given them express jurisdiction.

Sackett addresses the Clean Water Act’s (“CWA”) vague definition of “waters of the United States,” and the EPA’s use of that ambiguity to extend its regulatory reach. While the term “navigable …

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The Clean Water Act’s Not So Clean Application in Close Cases

Just last week, on October 3, 2022, Sackett v. EPA found itself once again before the U.S. Supreme Court for oral arguments, its first appearance at SCOTUS having been a decade before. In January 2022, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Sackett for a second time following remand, the petitioner Sacketts had amended their complaint in order to challenge the subject compliance order issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prohibiting the Sacketts from modifying the wetlands on their property on the basis that …

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Filling up a glass with drinking water from kitchen tap

Recommending Federal Discharge Standards for PFAS in Aquatic Life

Known as “forever” chemicals, many PFAS compounds are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world.  They also present at low levels in various food products and in the water, air, fish and soil in many areas. 

Many environmental advocates have called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set enforceable federal discharge standards for PFAS under the Clean Water Act.  Currently, no such federal regulations exist.  Water utilities in various states have expressed concern that these types of regulations …

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SCOTUS to Clarify Controlling Test for Wetlands under Clean Water Act

On Monday, January 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States announced that it will clarify the governing standard for determining whether wetlands are “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act in Sackett v. EPA. The court granted certiorari, limited to the following question: “Whether the Ninth Circuit set forth the proper test for determining whether wetlands are ‘waters of the United States’ under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. §1362(7).”

The Sackett case involves an Idaho couple who purchased …

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U.S. EPA Cannot Serve as Mere Bystander under the Clean Water Act

On December 29, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington held that, under the Clean Water Act, the EPA does not serve as a “mere bystander” in cases where states refuse to or cannot take action to implement water quality standards that protect aquatic life. See Northwest Envtl. Advocates v. United States EPA (2021) U.S. Dist. LEXIS 247673. For many years, the courts have held that while the states have primary responsibility under the Clean Water Act, the EPA itself must …

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Round droplets of water over the circles on the water. Ripples on sea texture. Closeup water rings

EPA Rescinds Guidance on “Functional Equivalent”

On September 15, 2021, the Biden administration announced it was rescinding the Trump administration’s guidance on the Supreme Court’s decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund and the Clean Water Act (CWA), § 402: National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

In County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund (590 US –, 140 S Ct 1462 [2019]), the U.S. Supreme Court addressed whether the CWA’s NPDES requires a discharger to acquire “a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to …

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The EPA’s Campaign to Transform WOTUS from Ephemeral to Resolute

If we are being honest, when it comes to the Clean Water Act, “navigable” is just one of those words that makes us all a bit tongue tied—not just because it’s tricky to pronounce, but because it is even more vexing to define, especially when we look to make sense of the regulatory definition of “waters of the United States.” Unpacking the definition of navigable and federally protected waters has indeed been the perennial work of scholars, judges, lawyers, and politicians alike since the CWA’s …

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Does Florida’s Plan to Take Over the Federal Wetlands Permitting Process Hold Water?

On December 17, 2020, two years after the Florida legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill serving as an initial step to promote the transfer of permitting authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the state of Florida, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted the Sunshine State’s request and approved a plan transferring federal authority to the state to issue permits for projects affecting the state’s wetlands. Florida will be only the third state in the United States to be granted such broad permitting …

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