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A Supreme Court Ruling is Poised to Devastate Wetlands Nationwide Assemblymember Friedman Vows to Protect California

For immediate release:

Sacramento, CA –The United States Supreme Court laid waste to America’s wetlands last year. California’s Assembly is set to do something about it. Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Burbank) has introduced Assembly Bill 2875 to blunt the damage the Supreme Court has done–at least in California.

Waterways, like icebergs, are made up of more than just what’s readily visible to the eye. They are surface water, ground water, the channels between the two, and depending on the rain and snow year, wetlands may be wet or intermittently dry.

Wetlands are a cornerstone of our ecosystem and critically important in a time of changing climate in protecting our communities. Wetlands store massive amounts of water, operating as natural flood control channels, protecting adjacent communities. They also play a key role in avoiding emissions from drained soils, preventing an increase in carbon stocks. In addition, wetlands are a critical habitat for birds that rely on them as places to nest and feed their young and as a place for migratory waterfowl of the Pacific Flyway to rest during their long migration journeys.

Due to an historical lack of protection and aggressive development, “California has lost over 90% of its historic wetlands, resulting in steep population declines of migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. That loss of coastal wetlands is even more alarming when compounded by 95% of formerly abundant lagoons and marshes along California’s 1,100-km coastline having been destroyed,” said Mike Lynes, Director of Public Policy for Audubon California.

In spite of this, a 2023 Supreme Court decision decimated protections for wetlands. In 2008, Michael and Chantell Sackett, started building a house in Idaho. The issue at hand was whether or not the couple’s home was located on a protected wetland. All nine justices ruled that it was not. But five conservative justices used that case to obliterate the Clean Water Act (CWA) by redefining what a waterway and wetland is. Congress’s definition was added to the CWA in 1977 and remained unchanged and was regularly upheld for decades.

Conservatives have long reviled the federal protections the CWA provided and as the courts grew more conservative, conservative justices began steadily chipping away at the definition of waterways and wetlands in a series of ever increasingly troubling decisions, capped off by Sackett v. EPA in 2023. In Sackett v EPA, the court ruled that wetlands must be “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water, indistinguishable from protected oceans, lakes, rivers and streams due to a continuous surface connection.” With this ruling, at least half of the approximately 110 million acres of wetlands in the continental U.S. will no longer be protected under the CWA.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is the latest in a series of court actions that weaken the protections we’ve had in place and the end result will be irreparable damage to our waterways across the nation,” said Assemblymember Laura Friedman. “It’s also a call to action and highlights why we need strong state leadership on this issue. It is essential that we pass AB 2875 to protect California’s essential natural resources.”

According to Mike Lynes, Director of Public Policy for Audubon California, "The Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency ruling appears to remove many state waters from federal protection, leaving an important subset of state waters, including isolated wetlands and ephemeral waters, unprotected at the federal level and entirely reliant on state authorities for water quality protection." Lynes furthers, "Wetlands are valuable for water quality improvement, plant and wildlife habitat, flood protection, curbing greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater recharge, shoreline erosion control, recreation, and aesthetics. By focusing on protecting our last remaining wetlands and working to create a net gain in wetlands, AB 2785 will safeguard and enhance the health and well-being of all Californians and the biodiversity unique to the state."

Before conservative justices began chipping away at it, the federal CWA was considered to be the most powerful tool for safeguarding water quality, wetlands, and riparian habitat. After the Sackett decision, protection of our waterways will be left to the states, an ability specifically granted to the states by the CWA. Accordingly, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers announced their final rule changes to comply with the Sackett ruling in May of 2023.

"While I am disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision in the Sackett case, EPA and Army have an obligation to apply this decision alongside our state co-regulators, Tribes, and partners," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

AB 2875 declares that it is the policy of the state of California to ensure no net loss and long-term gain in the quantity, quality, and permanence of wetlands acreage and values in California.

“While a patchwork quilt of policies will do untold damage in some states, I am determined that California will hold the line. We will protect the wetlands that the federal government and the US Army Corps of Engineers no longer can,” said Assemblymember Laura Friedman.

The ramifications of Sackett are of such grave consequence in California, that in a very tough budget year, Governor Newsom’s 2024 budget includes funding to maintain protections for formally federally protected wetlands.

AB 2875 will have its first hearing in April.


Laura Friedman represents 44th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Burbank, Glendale, and Los Angeles, as well as the communities of La Crescenta, Lake View Terrace, Montrose, North Hollywood, Shadow Hills, Sherman Oaks, Sunland-Tujunga, Studio City, Toluca Lake, and Valley Village.