Monday, August 15, 2016

How a 1995 firearms case led to Clean Water Act muddle

by Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter

Court rulings in Clean Water Act cases largely gave federal agencies broad regulatory authority until an unrelated 1995 Supreme Court decision on the possession of firearms in school zones, according to Congress' research arm. In United States v. Lopez, the high court struck down a federal statute for the first time in more than 50 years on the grounds that it exceeded the powers given to Congress by the Commerce Clause. "Lopez set the backdrop" for future rulings limiting federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction, the Congressional Research Service said in a report released Monday. Ever since, CRS said, the scope of the Clean Water Act has been a battleground for farmers, industry, environmentalists and regulators. At issue is the phrase "navigable waters of the United States," which Congress added in 1972 Clean Water Act amendments to determine the reach of permitting requirements (Greenwire, Dec. 24, 2015). Legal and political brawls continue to be fought over how that phrase should be applied under the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and between states.

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