How will the new SCOTUS ruling on wetlands regulation affect Louisiana?

Louisiana marsh (iStock)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the federal government does not have authority under the Clean Water Act over millions of acres of wetlands, which could make it easier to develop wetlands near rivers, lakes and streams. 

At least some state regulators don’t see a big impact in Louisiana, though not every expert agrees. 

Patrick Courreges, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, says DNR doesn’t expect much impact here, adding that state regulators don’t necessarily use the same definitions for wetlands as the EPA. A spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Quality did not respond to an email seeking comment in time for this story. 

Bryant Bremer with Kean Miller, whose practice includes environmental regulation and compliance, says the ruling could have a major impact in states that leave wetlands regulation entirely to the federal government. But Louisiana has its own regulations under the Louisiana Environmental Quality Act and the Coastal Use Permit Program, which will remain intact, he says. 

But Mark Davis, who directs Tulane’s Institute on Water Resources Law, says the new limits on federal authority could leave gaps. The Coastal Use Permit Program doesn’t apply to the Louisiana wetlands that aren’t near the coast, for example, and the Louisiana Environmental Quality Act is not the functional equivalent of the Clean Water Act. 

“We may be leaving important areas that traditionally have been protected out of protection,” he says. 

The majority opinion says federally protected wetlands must be directly adjacent to a “relatively permanent” waterway “connected to traditional interstate navigable waters” such as a river or ocean. They also must have a “continuous surface connection with that water, making it difficult to determine where the ‘water’ ends and the ‘wetland’ begins.”