October 11, 2005

High court to decide wetlands-regulation cases

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on
Tuesday that it would decide the reach of the federal
government's power to regulate wetlands, an issue pitting
environmentalists against property-rights advocates.

The justices agreed to decide a pair of Michigan cases,
involving a shopping-center developer and a condominium
builder, that will test whether the government's use of the
1972 Clean Water Act represented a permissible exercise of
Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce.

The high court will consider whether federal regulators
have gone too far by restricting development of wetlands that
are not adjacent to navigable waters such as rivers or lakes.

Property-rights advocates have argued that the clean-water
act covered only wetlands that physically abut traditional
navigable waters. Environmentalists said the law applied to
wetlands that may not have a direct connection to such waters.

The Justice Department told the Supreme Court the federal
government has the power to regulate the wetlands at issue.

It said the government has had long-standing authority to
protect the quality of traditional navigable waters by
regulating upstream pollutant discharges, and that the law
covered a wetland when there is a "hydrological connection" to
nearby navigable waters, even if they do not directly abut.

In one case, a Michigan man, John Rapanos, was convicted of
violating the clean-water law for filling his wetlands near
Midland with sand to develop the land for a shopping center. He
did not have the required permit.

The other case involved four individuals who sought to fill
a wetland in Macomb County, Michigan, to build a condominium
complex. The federal government denied their request for a
permit under the clean-water law.

The justices will hear arguments in the two cases early
next year, with a decision expected by the end of June.