How a Supreme Court ruling cutting wetlands protection will impact the Lowcountry

A recent Supreme Court ruling puts a strong limit on what the Environmental Protection Agency can control when it comes to water pollution.
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 5:00 PM EDT|Updated: May. 31, 2023 at 11:01 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCSC) - A recent Supreme Court ruling puts a strong limit on what the Environmental Protection Agency can control when it comes to water pollution.

Wetlands can now only be regulated under the Clean Water Act if they have a “continuous surface connection” to larger regulated bodies of water, like a river or a lake, the ruling states.

This would no longer protect scattered wetlands, like in Cainhoy or the Francis Marion National Forest.

Andrew Wunderley, the executive director of a water quality nonprofit called Charleston Waterkeeper, says wetlands a source of filtering water, storing floodwater and protecting downstream communities from pollution and flooding.

“It really puts at stake everything that our community is built on here in the Lowcountry,” Wunderley said.

He describes the Lowcountry as one big sponge because it’s connected with groundwater and rainfall patterns throughout the seasons. He says these wetlands don’t have state-level protections either.

“So, the real concern here is that it’s going to make it easier to do fill and build-type development,” Wunderley said. “It’s going to make it easier to destroy those wetlands. It’s going to make it easier to pave over top of them. And what that means is it means more polluted water for the community; it means loss of habitat for wildlife, and it means just more dirty water and more flooding for the community.”

Another environmental advocacy nonprofit says some places are more at risk from this ruling than others.

“I think the Supreme Court really gave into the demands of big polluters and it’s leaving the most vulnerable among us, including indigenous communities, communities of color and those most vulnerable to pollution and climate-intensifying disasters at risk,” Riley Egger, land, water and water life program director at the Coastal Conservation League, said.

Egger says every citizen should know how this ruling could impact their daily life.

“We all rely on clean drinking water,” Egger said. “We need it for our families. We need it for our economies. We need it for our industries and our tourism and just the lifeblood of our communities. And this puts all of that at risk.”

Lauren Megill Milton, a staff attorney at the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, a nonprofit that focuses on environmental protection, says she’s not sure why the Supreme Court would want to take away this protection.

“The ‘Waters of the United States’ definition has changed so many times over the years and it’s proven to be a flimsy mechanism to actually protect what’s important in our state,” Milton said. “And that’s why we need stronger state and local protection.”

Milton says this doesn’t mean the treatment of wetlands should become a free for all.

“Check and make sure that the wetlands that you have on any property that you own are protected,” Milton said. “Everybody needs to do their part.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization, provided a press release in response to the Supreme Court ruling.

The nonprofits say it’s important to contact your state and local officials to fight for wetland protection at the state level.