The Supreme Court on Thursday curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to police water pollution, ruling that the Clean Water Act does not allow the agency to regulate discharges into some wetlands near bodies of water.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for five justices, held that the law covers only wetlands “with a continuous surface connection” to those waters.
The decision was a second major blow to the E.P.A.’s authority and to the power of administrative agencies generally. Last year, the court limited the E.P.A.’s power to address climate change under the Clean Air Act.
Experts in environmental law said the decision would sharply limit the E.P.A.’s authority to protect millions of acres of wetlands under the Clean Water Act, leaving them subject to pollution without penalty.
“This is a really disastrous outcome for wetlands, which have become absolutely vital for biodiversity preservation and flood control,” said Patrick Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School.