Wetlands, Waterfowl, and the Menace of Mr. Wilson: Commerce Clause Jurisprudence and the Limits of Federal Regulation

By Adler, Jonathan H. | Environmental Law, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Wetlands, Waterfowl, and the Menace of Mr. Wilson: Commerce Clause Jurisprudence and the Limits of Federal Regulation


Adler, Jonathan H., Environmental Law


I. INTRODUCTION

To some, James J. Wilson is "a conscientious, environmentally sensitive" builder of planned communities known for their parks, scenic trails, and substantial open space.(1) One of his most recent developments, St. Charles, in Charles County, Maryland, even provided for the preservation of seventy-five acres of wetlands.(2) "In my experience with developers all over America, I have met few who have as much concern for the environment as Jim Wilson," commented one of his colleagues.(3)

To others, however, Wilson was a menace to the environment, a greedy developer who, in his lust for profit, "wantonly destroy[ed]"(4) approximately fifty acres of wetlands that were "very critical to the continued health of the Potomac River watershed and the Chesapeake Bay."(5) Wilson began the development of St. Charles in 1976, at which time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) determined that "[t]he construction of St. Charles [C]ommunities will have no impact on our area of responsibility."(6) Fourteen years later, after a significant expansion of the Corps's asserted jurisdiction over wetlands,(7) federal officials thought otherwise. Wilson was notified to cease construction on areas determined to be jurisdictional wetlands. Wilson complied, but turned around and slapped the federal government with a lawsuit demanding compensation for the regulatory taking of his land.(8)

In 1995, Wilson and his company, Interstate General Company (IGC), were indicted on four felony and misdemeanor counts for filling wetlands w without a federal permit between 1988 and 1993. Wilson's "egregious conduct"(9) made him an environmental criminal. "This case shows that wetlands are critical environmental resources," declared Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator W. Michael McCabe, adding "[t]he American people will not tolerate reckless lawbreaking, especially by those who know the rules."(10)

After a seven-week trial, Wilson and IGC were found guilty of "knowingly discharging fill and excavated material into wetlands of the United States"(11) in violation of section 404 of the Clean Water Act.(12) On June 17, 1996, a federal judge sentenced Wilson to 21 months in prison and imposed a $1 million fine.(13)

Wilson's conviction did not stand for long. On appeal, Wilson alleged that the regulations promulgated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to regulate wetlands were invalid. In particular, Wilson charged that the Corps did not have jurisdiction over all wetlands that merely "could affect" interstate commerce,(14) as this regulation implied a "limitless view of federal jurisdiction."(15) Regulatory authority of such a broad scope, Wilson argued, would violate the Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Lopez,(16) which reaffirmed the presence of constitutional limits of federal regulatory jurisdiction.(17) The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed, finding that the regulation was "unauthorized by the Clean Water Act as limited by the Commerce Clause."(18) The Corps's regulations defined "waters of the United States' to include intrastate waters that need have nothing to do with navigable or interstate waters" and therefore "expand[ed] the statutory phrase ... beyond its definitional limit."(19) In other words, the Corps did not have jurisdiction over the parcels that Wilson drained for his development. His conviction was reversed and remanded to the district court for a new trial.(20)

United States v. Wilson was not the first time a federal appeals court considered whether isolated wetlands could be regulated by Congress under the Commerce Clause,(21) and it is unlikely to be the last.(22) The federal wetlands regulations promulgated under section 404 of the Clean Water Act(23) have been one of the more contentious areas of federal environmental policy for the past several years, spawning substantial litigation(24) and political controversy.(25) Lopez is one of several recent decisions indicating that the Supreme Court will actively enforce constitutional limits on federal regulatory authority. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Wetlands, Waterfowl, and the Menace of Mr. Wilson: Commerce Clause Jurisprudence and the Limits of Federal Regulation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.