Senator Cramer: The Clean Water Act Definitions Remain Muddy

Dan Legislative, WOTUS Act

This image from the amicus brief of the Idaho Conservation League shows that the wetlands on the Sacketts’ property are connected to the wetland across the road and the lake nearby.
Cale Jaffe / Environmental Law and Community Engagement Clinic, University of Virginia School of Law

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing on the Waters of the U. S. Rule (WOTUS) to look closer at the rule and the actions taken since the Supreme Court decision in the Sackett vs. Environmental Protection Agency case. A member of the committee, Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said the Supreme Court has a history of leaving the definition of Waters of the United States vague.

Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND)

“And it’s because the courts were reluctant to define for the agencies and for the legislative branch that there’s been this regulatory ping pong, that would go back and forth, back and forth. While this latest case, the Sackett case, the court did put further definition into what’s a water of the United States,” Senator Cramer said.

He explained that when the Clean Water Act originated, Waters of the United States was based on the term “navigable,” meaning, for example, a river where one could move a product from state to state, or permanent waters that may cross federal land. However, he said the definition has shifted to include waters that can flow into navigable waters, such as a stream. Ephemeral waters, such as those created by rain, were not included.

The wetlands on the Sacketts’ property.

“And that’s where the definition got cloudy. While Alito made it really clear, it seemed to most people, but there’s just enough lack of clarity, I guess, in the minds of the agencies that they thought they could stick with this occasional stream of seasonal rivers containing some continuous flow during certain times could continue to be considered navigable Waters of the United States, he said. “And so, in the new rule, in my view, they violated already the Alito decision and the Alito interpretation of what is the Waters of the United States.” Senator Cramer expects more litigation to come.

Sabrina Halvorson
National Correspondent / AgNet Media, Inc.

Sabrina Halvorson is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and public speaker who specializes in agriculture. She primarily reports on legislative issues and hosts The AgNet Weekly podcast. Sabrina is a native of California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley.