SCOTUS Rules Against White House’s Water Pollution Permits

Clean Water

Here are the things you need to know about the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Obama Administration’s water pollution permits (aka “jurisdictional determinations”).



We’ve said before it’s doubtful that an eight person Supreme Court would rule on “important cases” in the fear of creating precedence with a depleted bench.


Well, while this isn’t necessarily precedence, it most definitely is a major decision.


SCOTUS ruled unanimously yesterday in US Army Corps of Engineers v Hawkes Co. that landowners can appeal federal jurisdiction and permit requirements based on provisions by the federal government (ie the Clean Water Act). Or in other words, land owners and corporations – specifically mining companies in this instance – have the right to challenge the federal government over lands that they deem protected under the Clean Water Act. While on the surface, this seems mundane, in actuality it’s a pretty big blow to how the Obama administration enacts the Clean Water Act and a big victory for industries that find the regulations constricting to their businesses.


Here are the important things you need to know about the SCOTUS decision.



  • It’s important to note that the Obama administration always faced an uphill battle in US Army Corps of Engineers v Hawkes Co. As SCOTUSblog states, in this case SCOTUS felt that the federal government may have stepped over its bounds when trying to enforce the Clean Water Act through “jurisdictional determinations” (JDs). These JDs advise landowners whether their property contains “waters of the United States”, thus being subject to protection of the Clean Water Act. In this case, SCOTUS made their views very clear on how they felt about the practice of using JDs to regulate clean water standards:




  • However that isn’t to say SCOTUS wants all government agencies to stop using JDs to regulate particular sectors. As you may know, a big part of a federal government agency’s day-to-day tasks include giving informal advice and/or information to private sectors. SCOTUS, with its ruling in US Army Corps of Engineers v Hawkes Co., wanted to make sure their decision was specifically ruled on this certain case so it doesn’t affect how other agencies regulate.


  • With all that said, this was a massive hit to how the Obama administration implements the Clean Water Act. Using JDs was a tool the federal government would consistently use when regulating in areas where fresh water was present, like in the wetlands. The SCOTUS decision weakens the federal government’s ability to do that.


  • On the flip side, private land owners and energy companies (especially mining companies) are the big winners here. JDs were regularly used by the federal government as a deterrent to not utilize mineral enriched areas like the wetlands. In many cases, these permits were expensive and almost impossible to fight against due to their lengthy rebuttal process. But now, those JDs can be challenged in court. Which means companies and land owners could potentially save hundreds of thousands in permit fees!


  • In the long run, SCOTUS’ ruling not only weakens the Clean Water Act, but also opens up to challenging more environmental regulations in the future. For many companies, pushing back on environmental regulations has become the norm (nine cases regarding environmental protections have been heard by SCOTUS over the last three decades). Yesterday’s decision just gave them more of a reason to push back against environmental standards to see where the federal regulation limits lie.


Nine Drums


Ok, THAT would definitely be crossing the line on environmental regulations…



(Photo Credit:, Google Images)


1 Comment

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One Response to SCOTUS Rules Against White House’s Water Pollution Permits

  1. Anonymous

    SCOTUS does it again! Just like in Citizens United, they lessen democracy just a little bit more!

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