For Immediate Release: Thursday, May 25, 2023


Marie Callaway Kellner, Conservation Program Director, Idaho Conservation League, (208) 345-6933 x 220

Jennifer Ekstrom, North Idaho Lakes Conservation Associate, Idaho Conservation League, (208) 318-5812

Abby Urbanek, Communications Manager, Idaho Conservation League, (208) 345-6933 x 214

Supreme Court ruling on Sackett v. EPA reduces Clean Water Act protections 

Ruling diminishes protections for wetlands in North Idaho, raises alarm for water quality nationwide

WASHINGTON, DC – On May 25, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Sackett v. EPA, an environmental case with major implications for clean water in Idaho and across the country. The 5-4 opinion, authored by Justice Alito, narrows the scope of the Clean Water Act by eliminating protections for countless wetlands and waterways. 

Advocating for clean water in Idaho’s Priest Lake and across the country, the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) partnered with the University of Virginia’s Environmental Law Clinic to file an Amicus brief, also known as a Friend of the Court brief, in this case. 

The case addressed whether Chantell and Mike Sackett, who aim to fill in wetlands adjacent to North Idaho’s Priest Lake to build a home, needed a Clean Water Act permit. The Supreme Court ruling says that because this particular wetland is not visibly connected to surface water in Priest Lake, it is not protected by the Clean Water Act and thus no permit is needed. 

This ruling ignores the science behind wetlands. The wetland that the Sacketts plan to build on is a unique wetland known as the Kalispell Bay Fen, which took thousands of years to develop and cannot be restored once destroyed. The Kalispell Bay Fen feeds directly into Kalispell Creek and Priest Lake. The Sackett’s property is separated only by a road built through the wetland. Priest Lake already suffers from toxic algae, and this ruling will inevitably further degrade water quality and undermine a key source of drinking water, make the lake unsafe for swimming for people and dogs, and harm fish and wildlife.

As devastating as this outcome is for Priest Lake, it reverberates far beyond North Idaho. 

“In deciding that water quality protections only apply to wetlands that have a visible connection to streams and lakes, the Court opened the door nationwide for waste disposal to run amok, allowing pollution to be disposed of at-will and with no accountability,” said Marie Callaway Kellner, Conservation Program Director for ICL. “American taxpayers will ultimately pay for it – whether through higher wastewater treatment costs borne by communities instead of polluters, or, even worse, by impacts to human and environmental health. This ruling undermines the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect public health, and sends the message that private development that benefits a few individuals is more important than clean water for all. It is a sad day when the U.S. Supreme Court protects polluters over people, fish, and wildlife.”

“The bipartisan application of Clean Water Act protections is what led to the cleanup of some of our nation’s dirtiest rivers, and allowed elected leaders to focus on the pollution sources feeding into our rivers for decades,” said Cale Jaffe with the University of Virginia’s Environmental Law Clinic. 

ICL recognizes the critical role wetlands play in our environment, economy, and communities, and remains committed to protecting and restoring these precious resources. 

“Wetlands are like the kidneys of the earth. They clean our water and store it, providing resilience in the face of drought and hotter summers,” said Jennifer Ekstrom, North Idaho Lakes Conservation Associate with ICL. “Our wetlands will continue to grow in importance as climate change impacts continue. Even if a wetland is privately owned, it serves critical needs for humanity and should be managed for the good of all.”

The Sackett decision undermines more than 50 years of progress protecting water quality under the Clean Water Act, and will harm clean water for current and future generations.