Wetlands: “Swampbuster” Remains Where WOTUS Ends

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Farmlaw recently contributed a short article to Southern Ag Today (linked) on the distinction between wetlands protections modified by the recent Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. EPA and those remaining in place under the Security Act of 1985 and its successors (a/k/a “the Farm Bill”). This Farm Bill program – known as “Swampbuster” – disqualifies landowners and farm operators from participation in federal Farm Bill programs (e.g. conservation payments, crop insurance subsidies, etc.) if they are found to have converted wetlands (as determined by the Natural Resources Conservation Service) after December of 1985. Because the Sackett decision is limited to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 (a/k/a the “Clean Water Act”), the Farm Bill program remains in place though it is also a federal program. Under Clean Water Act, a landowner must secure a “Section 404” permit to fill or drain wetlands considered Waters of the United States (“WOTUS”), and the Sackett decision objectively frees more acreage from this expensive requirement for land alteration. Swampbuster on the other hand does not rely on a “permit or penalty” scheme, but rather a landowner certification under review by NRCS for continuing program eligibility. Hence, the expansion of landowner dominion over “isolated” wetlands on their property (those no longer subject to federal protections under Clean Water Act) is arguably more relevant to a landowner’s decision to remove land from agricultural or forest production for non-farm development.