Skip to content

SCOTUS SHRINKS WOTUS: Alaska has More Say on its Wetlands

May 25, 2023

Today, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision limiting the reach of the Clean Water Act, specifically the definition of Waters of the United States (WOTUS) in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency. The Court’s ruling stands to significantly decrease the amount of wetlands covered by the Clean Water Act in Alaska, limiting the federal government’s power to control Alaskan community and resource development projects—and how Alaskans balance development with environmental protection.

With more than three million lakes, nearly a million miles of rivers, more coastline than the rest of the Lower 48 combined, and, prior to today’s ruling, 174 million acres of wetlands subject to federal oversight, no other state had more at stake in this case than Alaska.

“The Court made the right call in limiting federal jurisdiction over wetlands and placing decision-making power back in the hands of States,” said Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy. “This ruling stands to promote the kind of responsible development my Administration is working to bring to Alaska.”

The State of Alaska has long advocated for limiting the expansion of the definition of WOTUS. Alaska argued to the Supreme Court in a friend-of-the-court brief that an expansive WOTUS definition exceeded the authority granted to the federal agencies under the Clean Water Act. In addition, the State recently urged exemptions for unique types of wetlands such as permafrost in comments it submitted last year as part of EPA’s WOTUS rulemaking. Earlier this year, Alaska and 23 other States won a preliminary injunction of the EPA’s revised WOTUS definition.

“The EPA touted the importance of durability in its recent update to the definition of WOTUS,” said Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune. “Today’s ruling throws the Biden Administration’s revised definition into utter turmoil and as we predicted, will force EPA to go back to the drawing board. Of late, federal agencies have exploited the ambiguous WOTUS definition to expand their jurisdictional reach to cover wetlands in Alaska with only a remote connection to traditionally navigable waters. Not any longer.”

“The State of Alaska has been in a non-stop fight to limit federal overreach since the start of the Biden Administration,” said Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor. “I’m proud of the efforts both now and over the past two decades of our state lawyers who contributed to today’s ruling that clarifies the scope of the Clean Water Act and will no longer unnecessarily hamper Alaska’s ability to manage its own land and water. The clarity provided by this decision will help to end this unlawful federal expansion and bring certainty and predictably to Alaskan development.”

With today’s Court action, Alaska’s departments will begin to redefine what lands will be subjected to Clean Water Act permitting requirements. “Today’s ruling puts Alaska back on the map,” said Governor Dunleavy. “There is no doubt, thanks to today’s ruling, that Alaska is once again open for business.”

Read the full opinion at :