WASHINGTON (AP) â€” The Supreme Court today agreed to clarify whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can regulate the use of land containing waters that are home to migrating birds.
The court said it will hear arguments by a group of Illinois municipalities that say the corps lacks authority to keep them from building a landfill on a site in Cook County.
The Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County, a consortium of 23 municipalities, decided during the 1980s to build a solid-waste landfill on a 533-acre site straddling Cook and Kane counties.
The site had been a strip mine about 50 years earlier, and areas that once were gravel pits had become about 200 ponds used as seasonal nesting and breeding areas by a variety of migratory birds.
The federal Clean Water Act requires a permit from the Corps of Engineers to dispose landfill in ``waters of the United States,'' including lakes, wetlands and ponds.
In 1986, the agency asked the Corps of Engineers whether it needed a permit to build on the site. The corps said a permit was needed because of a 1986 rule specifying that water used as migratory bird habitat is considered ``waters of the United States'' under the clean air law.
The government denied a permit for the landfill, and the solid waste agency sued. A federal judge ruled for the government, and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed last October.
Regulation of migratory bird habitat falls under Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce because millions of people travel each year to observe and hunt migratory birds, the appeals court said.
In the appeal acted on today, the agency's lawyers said the 7th Circuit court ruling lets the Corps of Engineers act as a ``sort of super zoning agency'' to take over land-use decisions traditionally made by local governments.
Justice Department lawyers said migratory birds are protected by international treaties and that loss of wetlands is a national problem.
The case is Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County vs. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 99-1178.
On the Net: For the appeals court ruling: http://www.uscourts.gov./links.html and click on 7th Circuit.