The Legal History and Evolution of the Clean Water Rule: Definition of "Waters of the United States"
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Since the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972, much has changed in both legal precedent and scientific knowledge concerning the ways administrative agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, regulate and protect waters in the United States. The Clean Water Act gives these agencies the authority to regulate the "waters of the United States", but there is much debate over what this terminology truly means. Since the 1970s, three landmark cases have altered the legal definition of "waters of the United States" - United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc., Rapanos v. United States, and Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency. These decisions brought about the need for the Clean Water Rule: Definition of "Waters of the United States" in order to clarify the scope of agency jurisdiction over the country's waters. This rule, promulgated in 2015, is the culmination of over four decades of legislation, landmark legal decisions, and agency actions that have changed the landscape of environmental regulations in the United States, and seeks to better protect the biological, physical, and chemical integrity of our nation's waters.