Good Bye, Clean Water (Act)

Judith Lewis of the LA Weekly summarizes the issues before the Supreme Court currently debating the Clean Water Act. Among the things she says:

One state’s boon is another state’s disaster, and it doesn’t much matter whether that state is red or blue: If you’ve seen what happens when your swamps disappear, as they have in Florida, you know why it’s important to protect them.

In other words, each state is free to screw up its water and then realize too late that they need to protect their wetlands? This points to the insanity that underlies all Federal Environmental Regulation, they are based on the Federal Government’s authority to “Regulate Interstate Commerce” under the Commerce clause of the Constitution. Since Environmental Protection is not mentioned in the Constitution (did they even have indoor plumbing of the non chamber pot variety?), it is considered a state subject unless it affects “commerce”. This can be interpreted either expansively to protect the environment, or Scalialisciously (thank you, the very wonderful Dahlia Lithwick, the only Supreme Court columnist to have her own fan page) to let any one build/dump wherever they please as long as they are not on the banks of the Mississippi! The CWA specifically empowers states to issue permits and it would seem that an successful challenge would really muddy the waters  🙁

Reading Lithwick’s dispatch leaves me to believe that it’s going to be a close call. Justices Scalia and Roberts seem to be finely parsing language and displaying a contemptuous and obviously fake ignorance of watershed hydrology. Hopefully, the center (Kennedy) will hold, He is a “States Rights” kinda guy, though, which is scary. On the other hand, he likes European Law and Europe is the Queen of classic command and control environmental regulation. Help, I can’t stand the suspense, what do the Vegas lines say???! Here are some of the possible consequences of an unfavorable ruling –

Under that topsy-turvy interpretation of the landmark 1972 law, more than half of all streams in the United States, as well as one-fifth of all wetlands, would no longer be protected, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. And waterways that provide drinking water for more than one in three Americans would be at risk. Nearly 150,000 miles of protected streams in California could be threatened.

The federal government is arguing for the continuation of the CWA, which I guess is some relief, hope they want to win this one.

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