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Army Corps Definition of Wetlands Too Expansive
Description Criminal conviction of land developer overturned by federal appeals court that found the Army Corps of Engineers' regulation defining "waters of the United States" to include any wetlands that "could affect" interstate commerce to be unconstitutional for going beyond the authority granted by Congress to protect water from pollution.
Topic Environmental Law
Key Words Clean Water Act, Criminal Violations
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Wilson, CEO of a real estate development company, was convicted on four felony counts of violating the Clean Water Act, sentenced to prison for 21 months, and fined $1 million. Wilson was found to have knowingly drained several parcels of wetland and deposited fill dirt into other wetlands without a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Court of Appeals
Reversed. The Army Corps, in promulgating regulations defining the statutory phrase "waters of the United States" exceeded its congressional authorization. The regulations are nearly limitless since the Corps asserts that "navigable waters" it includes any waters or expansively-defined wetlands that "could affect" interstate commerce. Defendant's land was hundreds of yards from nearest creek, so it is not clear it is within the "waters of the United States." The district court was in error to instruct the jury to extend the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act to wetlands that lack any "direct or indirect surface connection" to interstate waters.
Citation U.S. v. Wilson, 133 F.3d 251 (4th Cir., 1997)

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