United States of America
Jurisdiction, Permits, Wetlands, Administrative
This case addressed the question whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could assert jurisdiction over isolated intrastate waters solely because those waters did or potentially could serve as habitat of migratory birds. The petitioner in the case was a consortium of suburban Chicago municipalities. They contacted the respondents, the Army Corps of Engineers, to determine if a landfill permit was required under §404(a) of the Clean Water Act, for an abandoned sand and gravel pit selected by the petitioner as a solid waste disposal site. According to the Clean Water Act the Corps could issue permits allowing the discharge of dredged or fill material into “navigable waters”. The Corps stated that §404(a) extended to intrastate waters that, inter alia, provided habitat for migratory birds. Arguing that the relevant site provided habitat for migratory birds, the Corps claimed jurisdiction and refused the issuance of the permit. The petitioner challenged the Corps’ jurisdiction and the merits of the permit denial. The Supreme Court held that the Corps had exceeded the authority granted under §404(a) of the Clean Water Act in connection with the Migratory Bird Rule. The statute’s text did not allow extension of the Corps’ jurisdiction to regulate wetlands not adjacent to open water. The respondents had submitted that Congress had failed to pass legislation that would have overturned the Corps’ regulations. This indicated that Congress recognized and accepted a broad definition of “navigable waters” that included intrastate waters. The Supreme Court, however, held that the respondents had failed to show that the failure to pass legislation demonstrated acquiescence to the Corps’ rules. It recognized congressional acquiescence to administrative interpretations of a statute only with extreme care.