Army Corps Assertion of Jurisdiction Over Pond Water too Sweeping
Description The Supreme Court held that the Army Corps exceeded its jurisdiction by asserting control over pond water in an abandoned gravel pit to be navigable waters subject to its control. There is no legislative history to indicate that Congress intended to give the agency such broad control powers which otherwise remain with the states.
Topic Environmental Law
Key Words Clean Water Act; Navigable Waters; Regulatory Interpretation; Wetlands
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Several Chicago-area cities wanted to use an abandoned gravel pit as a garbage dump. The Army Corps asserted jurisdiction over the gravel pit as being part of the "navigable waters" of the United States under the Clean Water Act. The pit contained ponds formed by rainwater. Birds that migrated used the ponds, so the Corps claimed jurisdiction as the migrating birds are interstate commerce. The lower courts upheld the jurisdiction of the Corps; the cities appealed.
Decision Reversed. Water need not be navigable in the normal meaning of the term to be under Corps jurisdiction for purposes of wetlands protection, as Congress clearly intends to protect wetlands. However, the Corps cannot create regulations that go far beyond the intent of Congress. Asserting that because Congress has not passed rules to stop the Corps from using its very broad definition of navigable waters, is not proof that Congress intended for the Corps to have jurisdiction over all water in the country. Allowing the Corps to claim federal jurisdiction over ponds that might be used by migrating birds would result in a significant impingement on the states' traditional and primary power over land and water use. This is an unconstitutional assumption of power by the Corps.
Citation Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2001 WL 15333 (Sup. Ct., 2001)

Back to Environmental Law Listings

©1997-2002  SW Legal Studies in Business. All Rights Reserved.