TALLAHASSEE, FL — The Clean Water Act turns 50 this week, but parts of it are being challenged in a US Supreme Court case.
The case, Sackett v. EPA, could allow factories, pig farms and wastewater treatment plants to contaminate water in states that don’t have strong water quality protections.
Jim Murphy, director of legal advocacy at the National Wildlife Federation, said the case could lead to a cascading effect across the country.
“Could potentially, depending on how the court decides, remove important federal protections from pollution and destruction for up to half of the nation’s wetlands and perhaps 60 to 70% of the nation’s flows,” he said, “including many flows.” which is the source water for the drinking water supply of the people.”
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A new report from the National Wildlife Federation said that, if plaintiffs are successful, the case would be: “felt disproportionately by low-income and colored communities that already have inadequate water and wastewater infrastructure and are at greater risk of flooding.” Florida’s current water quality progress report calls it “needs improvement.”
Florida has taken some of its own measures to protect water, including a controversial program that pays farmers to maintain runoff on their own land. Critics have said it amounts to ‘social welfare’ because the ranchers get taxpayers’ money for doing little.
Nationally, Murphy pointed to polls showing that 75% of adults are in favor of protecting more waterways and want the Environmental Protection Agency to take the lead in protecting natural waterways.
“Again, these natural systems offer features that are very, very difficult to replace,” he said, “and very expensive to replace by technical and other means.”
This 14-year legal battle has brought the Sacketts to the Supreme Court for the second time. Their first was in 2012, when they were given the right to sue the EPA. A decision is expected in 2023.