Natural resources like water and air are vital for human sustenance, and their usage needs to be regulated by administrative and federal powers. The Clean Water Act, for example, provides a fundamental framework for managing the release of contaminants into water bodies and setting standards to maintain the quality of surface waters.
These set standards aim at the fair distribution of a nation’s resources among its people. Even though the roles of various sects in power are generally clearly defined, clashes are inevitable. Federal representatives will, time and again, have issues pertaining to the jurisdictions and implementation of the administrative powers, and vice versa.
In this article, we will shed light on the recent changes made to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s powers concerning water pollution. We will also highlight the implications brought about by these changes in the law.
What Is the EPA’s Role in Environment Protection?
For years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has served as the fundamental institution for regulating and safeguarding the environment in the United States.
The EPA holds five primary responsibilities for protecting the environment:
Establishing and enforcing environmental standards: As a government agency, the EPA holds the power to regulate and enforce regulations that address nationwide environmental concerns. These measures uphold public health and environmental standards.
Conducting research and assessments: It conducts comprehensive scientific research and examinations to understand the effects of pollutants on human health and the environment. This research not only shapes the development of regulations and policies but also serves to keep the public informed by sharing valuable findings and information.
Providing grants and support: It helps state and local governments, nonprofits, and communities in their respective environmental programs and initiatives by providing financial aid and grants.
These funds help fund initiatives that are aimed at curbing pollution levels and encouraging sustainable practices.
Promoting pollution prevention and sustainable practices: The Environmental Protection Agency’s activities have largely centered around reducing pollutants, preserving natural resources, and promoting sustainability.
It strives to achieve fulfill this mission by engaging with corporations, industries, and local communities. Through these collaborative efforts, the EPA strives to preserve resources and continue to encourage sustainable practices.
Informing and educating the public: The agency strives to empower individuals to make knowledgeable choices and help protect the environment. The efforts encompass educational outreach activities that aim to inform people about pressing environmental situations and their potential effects.
The Recent Development in the Role of the EPA
In May 2023, the United States Supreme Court delivered a landmark decision curtailing the role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in managing and protecting wetlands.
The US Supreme Court has mandated that the EPA can only control the release of pollutants into wetlands that have a direct, continuous surface connection to bodies of water.
The ruling comes in the wake of a petition filed by an Idaho couple against the EPA. The couple challenged the agency’s claim that their property was near a lake containing protected wetlands and that construction needed to be stopped.
The court concluded that the EPA had exceeded its authority by attempting to regulate wetlands outside of the criteria outlined in the Clean Water Act. This ruling effectively restricts the EPA’s jurisdiction over wetland regulation.
For many environmentalists, such regulations can result in a rerun of horrific community crises, like the Flint water crisis and the Camp Lejeune Water Crisis, that affected millions. They fear that large-scale crises cause a lot of long-term public grief, where mitigation measures are often not sufficient.
In August, President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act, removing the safety blanket that protected the government against claims holding it accountable for Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water.
This Act established a system for the victims to apply for compensation, but there was no special fund allocated for the same! According to a Navy spokesperson, more than 45,000 claims have been submitted to the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit in Norfolk, Virginia.
The government can choose to accept responsibility and pay compensation for the claims. But so far, none of them have been resolved, and many are still waiting for their Camp Lejeune lawsuit compensation amounts.
According to environment conservationists, this ruling can spell disaster for wetlands that are vital for preserving biodiversity and controlling floods. Many specialists fear that this would render millions of acres of wetlands vulnerable to consistent contamination without legal repercussions.
This can jeopardize the sources of clean water that millions of Americans rely on for their daily activities. Moreover, according to TorHoerman Law, these polluted water sites can be a breeding ground for a plethora of life-threatening diseases. Many industrial toxins lurking in the waters can cause cancers and diseases like ADHD and Parkinson’s.
The new rulings governing the status of wetlands risk leaving out some long-regulated wetlands from being covered under the Clean Water Act. This can have significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States.
On the other hand, many are rejoicing at this verdict. Advocates of property rights site this a major victory against the EPA’s expansive regulatory powers that, according to them, posed a grave danger to their private property rights.
They argue that earlier, the general classification of land as a wetland under the jurisdiction of the EPA posed a potential risk for any area that experienced wetness for even a small portion of the year.
In those times, if the property owners decided to build a house on a plot of land that the EPA considered ‘wet’, they were at the mercy of the agency. This modification rolled out in May has brought relief to them.
However, the lack of stringent enforcement measures can lead to a greater burden of environmental threats on disadvantaged communities, thereby amplifying environmental justice issues.
The recent judgment curbing the jurisdiction and powers of the EPA will have consequences. Exhaustive and holistic postulates should govern the functioning of essential facets of society.
From natural and artificial resources to manpower, every component needs a just playground to blossom and help people.
The implications of the US Supreme Court’s verdict will be felt with time, but for now, be diligent in the use of resources at your disposal and voice out your concerns because, in the end, you choose the people in power.