Press Release May 25, 2023

Supreme Court Ruling Caters to Polluters, Makes Waters Dirtier for People and Parks

"The Environmental Protection Agency was created more than 50 years ago to protect human health and our environment from known pollution and today their hands are tied by the Court ignoring America’s overwhelming support for more protections – not less." NPCA's Chad Lord

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a pivotal clean water case, Sackett vs. EPA, setting an overly narrow test for determining when wetlands are “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. The narrow interpretation now supported by the highest court will remove Clean Water Act protections for the majority of wetlands in the United States. This is detrimental to national parks where two-thirds of park waters are already impaired, with much of this pollution linked to out-of-park upstream activities.

The National Parks Conservation Association joined partners at American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Izaak Walton League, National Wildlife Federation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited and filed an amicus brief in the Sackett case arguing for stronger water protections for people, our national parks and the prized wildlife that live there.

Representing millions of national park advocates, anglers, hunters and outdoor recreationists, our groups argued that wetlands with a significant connection to traditional navigable waters must be included in Clean Water Act protections. Together, we showed that narrowing the coverage of the Clean Water Act would have devastating effects on national parks, wetlands, rivers and streams, fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities for the millions of people that enjoy our public lands and the outdoors. The groups were represented by Kramer Levin Robbins Russell LLP.

Healthy rivers, streams and waterways are integral to the health of America’s national parks, public lands and all who visit them. The loss of clean water protections has significant economic consequences for outdoor recreation, which supports $788 billion in consumer spending and more than five million jobs in the United States.

How will less protections look in national parks:

  • An estimated 86% of wetlands within just one of Indiana Dunes National Park’s watersheds are losing Clean Water Act protections. Nearly 70% of the park’s waters are already impaired due to industrial pollution outside of its boundaries and it will only get worse with this decision. It is one of the most biodiverse in the country and is home to the Great Marsh and more than 1500 plant and animal species.
  • An estimated 81% of wetlands in one of the Everglades National Park’s watersheds are losing protections. This will lead to more harmful pollution flowing into the park, impairing the park’s water and harming the many endangered and threatened species including the Florida panther.
  • Many of the wetlands around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are losing protections. These out-of-park wetlands are critical for improving the health of park waterways, better protecting its prized native book trout and the area’s recreational fishing industry.

Statement by Chad Lord, Senior Director of Environmental Policy and Climate Change for the National Parks Conservation Association

“Today’s decision deals another blow to decades of collaborative work to clean up our nation’s waterways. It prioritizes polluters over clean drinking water for millions of people and jeopardizes the waters that flow through our communities and our national parks. The Environmental Protection Agency was created more than 50 years ago to protect human health and our environment from known pollution and today their hands are tied by the Court ignoring America’s overwhelming support for more protections – not less.

“With communities in America today still living with unsafe drinking water and more than two-thirds of our national park waters impaired we cannot stand for this. Many national park waters originate outside their borders and depend on strong Clean Water Act protections for the health of the park, wildlife and visitors who swim and fish park waters. The Court has failed the most vulnerable communities – namely those on the frontlines, facing the intensifying climate crisis and pollution in already underserved areas and Tribal communities.

“From water-based parks like America’s Everglades and Biscayne to those rich with wetlands like Indiana Dunes and the Great Smokies – water is the lifeblood of our parks. From the impacts of climate change to drinking water crises, algal blooms and drought, cleaner water works in tandem with restoration investments already underway in and around our parks. When we prioritize clean water for people and parks, we promote businesses, tourism and recreational opportunities that draw record visitors to these places, and billions in economic support to the gateway communities that surround them.

“Congress must work fast to limit the damage and permanently protect our nation’s waters for drinking, recreating and fueling our local economies.”


About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit

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