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By Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared likely to rule that property owners can challenge the federal government in court when they are told they need sometimes costly permits required under a national water protection law.

During a one-hour oral argument, the majority of the eight justices appeared sympathetic toward Hawkes Co. Inc., which is fighting an Obama administration finding that it needs a permit to open a peat mine in Minnesota.

Only eight justices participated in the case following the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Whether a particular plot of land falls under the jurisdiction of the landmark 1972 U.S. Clean Water Act is of major importance to developers and other property owners because a finding that it does triggers a lengthy and expensive permitting process. Hawkes Co's lawyers say the company should be able to contest whether it even needs to go through the permit process.