Groups File Legal Brief in Supreme Court Supporting Stronger Clean Water Protections

News for Immediate Release
June 17, 2022
Contact: Katie McKalip, 406-240-9262,
[email protected]

Wetlands with a significant connection to traditional navigable waters must be included in Clean Water Act protections, groups maintain

WASHINGTON – Today, the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Izaak Walton League, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited filed an amicus brief in a pivotal Clean Water Act case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear in October. The ruling in the case, Sackett vs. EPA, is expected to set a test for determining when wetlands are “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act.

The groups, which represent millions of hunters, anglers, national park advocates and outdoor recreationists, argue that wetlands with a significant connection to traditional navigable waters must be included in Clean Water Act protections. They also maintain that the plaintiffs’ proposed interpretation of the landmark law relies on a flawed reading of the act’s text, structure and purpose.

Through the brief, the groups show that the narrow interpretation proposed by the Sackett’s would remove Clean Water Act protections for the majority of wetlands in the United States and that state protections would not make up for the loss of federal protections. They also show that narrowing the coverage of the Clean Water Act would have devastating effects on wetlands, rivers and streams, fish and wildlife habitat, national parks and recreational opportunities for the millions of people that enjoy our public lands and the outdoors.

Healthy rivers, streams and waterways are integral to the health of America’s public lands and all who visit them. The loss of clean water protections would have significant economic consequences for outdoor recreation, which supports $788 billion in consumer spending and more than 5 million jobs in the United States. More than 50 million Americans fished in 2019, where fishing and hunting contributed $200 billion to the U.S. economy.

Quotes from each organization are included below. The groups are represented by Kramer Levin Robbins Russell LLP. For more information, read the full brief here.

“For too long, our nation’s wetlands, waters and wildlife have faced uncertainty with shifting administrative policies that threaten fish and wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing opportunities and safe drinking water,” said John Gale, conservation director of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Sportsmen and women have a proud history of investment in the conservation of our natural resources and we have a collective obligation to their future stewardship. Now is not the time to narrow the scope of this noble charge – we must once again come together to ensure our waterways carry the full weight of protection under the Clean Water Act.“

“Limiting the scope of the Clean Water Act by removing some wetlands from its jurisdiction based on their physical surface connections runs counter to science, the law, and common sense,” said Jared Mott, conservation director for the Izaak Walton League. “The rule proposed here would eliminate protections for a vital link of our waterways, with no consideration of how a wetland disperses floodwaters, purifies drinking water, or provides critical habitat for wildlife. The Izaak Walton League of America is committed to defending the Clean Water Act and is proud to stand with our partners in this action.”

“We all deserve and expect clean water in our parks and for our communities,” said Chad Lord, senior director of environmental policy and climate change for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Our waterways are all connected and what pollutes one, impacts many. From thundering waterfalls to beautiful lakes, rivers, and beaches, protecting them is critically important for our livelihoods and worth fighting for. As the worsening climate crisis continues to create record flooding, increased severe storms and more, protecting clean water for drinking, swimming and fishing cannot wait.

“Wetlands are essential for healthy wildlife populations and people’s ability to access and enjoy outdoor recreation,” said Jim Murphy, legal advocacy director for the National Wildlife Federation. “This brief shows the court that not only is broadly protecting wetlands critical to achieving safe and healthy water for people and communities, but it is vital to protecting access to treasured outdoor activities like trout fishing and duck hunting.”

“Protection of wetlands and waterways under the Clean Water Act is critical not just for fish and wildlife, but also for the businesses, farms and communities that depend on healthy water,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “America’s millions of hunters and anglers know that dropping Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and waters is exactly the wrong idea. We support efforts by the EPA to develop a fair ‘Waters of the U.S.’ definition, rooted in science and reflecting input from a broad array of voices, that accomplishes the objective of the Clean Water Act – restoring and protecting America’s rivers, streams and wetlands.”

“The impact of this case on the future of fish, wildlife, and hunting and fishing is significant,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re proud to stand with the other groups on the brief to shed light on the urgent need and strong support for conservation of our country’s headwaters and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. An overwhelming majority of hunters and anglers are in favor of strengthening federal clean water protections, and the habitat needs are very clear right now. As our waterways and wetlands face the impacts of climate change, it’s more important than ever to defend against a narrow definition of what qualifies for clean water protections.”

The Clean Water Act was enacted to restore and maintain the quality of the nation’s waters. In part, it regulates the discharges of pollutants into “navigable waters,” which is broadly defined as “the Waters of the United States.” In the current Sackett vs. EPA case, the Supreme Court is considering what the proper test should be for determining when wetlands are “Waters of the United States” under the CWA. The Sackett’s proposed test could deny federal protections to more than half of all wetlands in the country. Our brief argues that this test is unsupported by the text, structure, and stated purposed of the CWA.

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for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.

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