Environmental Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2968 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Transportation - Environmental Issues

The court disagreed with the site qualifying under Section 404(a)'s definition of 'navigable waters' because of being a habitat for the migratory birds. The courts disagreement was based on the consideration that it would assume the statute did not have any independent significance. The court explained that, in the aggregate, the substantial effects on the interstate commerce were not clear because the petitioner's, SWANCC's, landfill was clearly of commercial nature and clearly not connected to 'navigable waters' and 'waters of the United States' that the statute extends the terms to. The court rejected the request for Administrative deference based on the state and federal balance where Congress extended rights and responsibilities to the States. The aggregate balance of the economic loss of natural resources and revenue compared against the economic gain of the landfill was not clearly established to the court.


Judge J. Stevens disagreed with the majority opinion and stated the majority had overlooked certain aspects as to the historical intentions of Congress in passing the Clean Water Act and the intentions concerning the Corps' jurisdiction. Judge Stevens argued that Section 13 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 only extended the Corps' mission with the scope of regulating navigable waters. The Clean Water Act broadened the Corp's scope to include the purpose of protecting the quality of our Nation's waters for esthetic, health, recreational, and environmental uses. The scope was redefined to include all "the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas."Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Environmental Case Study Case Title: Assignment

Judge Stevens argues the court's decision draws a near jurisdictional line that invalidates the "Migratory Bird Rule" as well as the Corps' assertion over all the waters except for actually navigable waters, their tributaries, and wetlands adjacent to each of them. He claims the holding rests on: 1) when Congress passed the 1972 Clean Water Act, it did not intend to exert anything more than its commerce power over navigation, and 2) the 1972 Congress drew the boundary defining the Corps' jurisdiction. The major purpose of the Clean Water Act was to establish a comprehensive long-range policy for elimination of water pollution. The primary purpose of Section 404 is the maintenance of navigability as a principal pollution control measure. He argues that activities regulated by the Clean Water Act has nothing to do with the Congress' commerce power over navigation. The interests of the statute embraces protection of "significant natural, biological functions, including food chain production, general habitat, and nesting, spawning, rearing and resting sites" (531 U.S. 159) for various species of aquatic wildlife. He claims the majority accuses the Corps of reading the term 'navigable' out of statute when the focus of the court was on the definition. He also claims Section 404(g)(1) is ambiguous because it did not indicate precisely how far Congress considered federal control to extend. He pointed out that United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 558-559 (1995) identified three broad categories of activity that Congress may regulate under its commerce power: 1) channels of interstate commerce, 2) instrumentalities of interstate commerce, or persons, or things in the interstate commerce, and 3) activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.


The court held that "Congress did have authority to regulate such waters based on the cumulative impact doctrine, under which a single activity that itself has no discernible effect on interstate commerce may still be regulated if the aggregate effect of that class of activity has a substantial impact on interstate commerce." It also said the destruction of the natural habitat had a substantial impact in interstate commerce. The court's view was based on historical facts and Congressional intentions noting that the purpose of the passing the Clean Water Act was to restore, preserve, and maintain chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters. It also gave the States the rights and responsibilities to control pollution, restore, and preserve the natural resources within its own territory with consultation from the Administrator to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act. It was determined that Section 404(a) did give the Corps the authorization to regulate fill material discharged in navigable waters, but additional regulations expanded the definition to include other water resources.

It was determined that the mining site's water sources had developed a natural character, was used by migratory birds as a natural habitat, and contained substantial impact on interstate commerce with millions of Americans spending over a billion dollars each year to cross state lines and hunt or observe the migratory birds. Where the landfill is of a commercial nature, the operation would also impact interstate commerce in respects to the operation charging customers to dispose of nonhazardous waste. The question in the aggregate would be determining how much impact the landfill operation would have on interstate commerce and how it would compare to the natural habitat's impact on interstate commerce. With SWANCC being a consortium of 23 suburban cities and villages, there could be a substantial impact on interstate commerce from the landfill operation.

Where the Clean Water Act was passed with the purpose of controlling water pollution as well as restoring and preserving the Nation's waters, the purpose centers around protecting the natural environment by protecting the water resources in the natural sense. With the mining site's waters having developed a natural character, they have developed a natural environment. Under these terms and the definitions presented by the court, the Corps should have the authorization to regulate the waters of the mining site under Section 404(a). Even though the court presented the definitions as being expanded with additional regulations, the majority focused on the navigable waters and not all of the waters included in the additional definitions.

Where both the natural habitat and the landfill operations would have substantial impact on the interstate commerce, there is not a good balance between the goal of protecting the environment and the aim of supporting the economy. Both operations would bring revenue from economic growth and employment from the revenues, but the landfill does not protect the environment. And, once the land has been completely filled with nonhazardous waste, it could not be redeveloped into a natural state. Therefore, the landfill operation would present a good balance in protecting the natural environment and the aim of supporting the economy.

Under these terms, the SWANCC should not be allowed to put fill material in the natural waters of the mining site. By doing so, it would destroy the natural resources the site has provided by being abandoned as well as displaces the migratory bird species that use the natural habitat. The Corps should be given the right to exercise its authority to regulate the water resources on the mining site.

In the dissenting comments, Judge Stevens noted the court's decision drawing a near jurisdictional line that invalidated the Migratory Bird Rule and limited the Corps' authority to navigable waters. But, in the holdings of the court, the Migratory Bird Rule fairly interpreted the Clean Water Act, but the court held it was not fairly supported by the Clean Water Act. Judge Stevens argued the Corps' scope was broadened with the Clean Water Act to include protecting the quality of waters for esthetic, recreation, health, and environmental uses. This would include protecting the water resources used as natural habitat for the migratory species. The Clean Water Act gave the Corps' the authority to protect the waters, even for the migratory birds under the Migratory Bird Rule. The definitions presented by the court clearly indicated that. The court chose to focus on the navigable water based on the United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc., 474 U.S. 121 (1985) case that focused on wetlands.

In order to strike a good balance between protecting the natural environment and the aim to support the economy, the court should have considered the Clean Water Act based on the purpose of the act and not just the definitions where the expansions of the definitions were ignored by the court. Where the natural habitat and the landfill operation both affect the interstate commerce in substantial ways, the natural habitat has a more substantial impact when the natural environment is concerned. The preservation of the natural habitat would bring a good balance between protecting the natural environment and the aim for supporting the economy where the landfill operation just supports the economy and, at the same, destroys the natural resources provided by the site. The landfill operation would not bring a good balance between the two goals.

The three broad categories defined in United States v. Lopez, 514, U.S. 549, 558-559 (1995) clearly presents Congress' commerce power and includes activities that substantially affect interstate commerce. Under this definition, the Corps has the authority to regulate both the natural habitat of the mining site and the fill material placed in the site's… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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