Save Our State of Massachusetts
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has come forcefully down on the side of an Idaho couple in its fight against the Environmental Protection Agency, unanimously ruling Wednesday that the couple can challenge an EPA order to stop construction of their home on property designated a wetland.
Wednesday’s decision is a victory for Mike and Chantell Sackett, whose property near a scenic lake has sat undisturbed since the EPA ordered a halt in work in 2007. The agency said part of the property was a wetlands that could not disturbed without a permit.
In an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court rejected EPA’s argument that allowing property owners quick access to courts to contest orders like the one issued to the Sacketts would compromise the agency’s ability to deal with water pollution.
“Compliance orders will remain an effective means of securing prompt voluntary compliance in those many cases where there is no substantial basis to question their validity,” Scalia said.
In this case, the couple objected to the determination that their small lot contained wetlands that are regulated by the Clean Water Act, and they complained there was no reasonable way to challenge the order without risking fines that can mount quickly.
The EPA issues nearly 3,000 administrative compliance orders a year that call on alleged violators of environmental laws to stop what they’re doing and repair the harm they’ve caused. Major business groups, homebuilders, road builders and agricultural interests all have joined the Sacketts in urging the court to make it easier to contest EPA compliance orders issued under several environmental laws.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a separate opinion that the only issue decided by the court Wednesday is the Sacketts’ ability to contest the EPA finding that their property is subject to the Clean Water Act. The court did not decide largers issues, Ginsburg said.
“On that understanding, I join the court’s opinion,” she said.
In another separate opinion, Justice Samuel Alito called on Congress to clear up confusion over the reach of the Clean Water Act. Alito said that federal regulators could assert authority over any property that is wet for even part of the year, not just rivers and streams.
The court’s opinion “is better than nothing, but only clarification of the reach of the Clean Water Act can rectify the underlying problem,” Alito said.
In 2005, the Sacketts paid $23,000 for a .63-acre lot near scenic Priest Lake. They decided to start building a modest, three-bedroom home early in 2007.
They had filled part of the property with rocks and soil, in preparation for construction, when federal officials showed up and ordered a halt in the work.
In a statement, the Sacketts praised the court for “affirming that we have rights, and that the EPA is not a law unto itself.”
The case is Sackett v. EPA, 10-1062.
Legislation introduced by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would target these abuses by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Defense of Environment and Property Act of 2012, S. 2122, with seven cosponsors so far, would rein in the EPA’s regulatory overreach over “navigable waters” on private property that has destroyed the American dream of home building for many Americans. A companion bill will soon be introduced in the House.
“Environmental protection must be balanced with the fundamental American right to private property,” Sen. Paul has said, adding, “It is time to bring common sense to federal water policy, and I do so on behalf of the thousands of property owners across the country who have been met with aggression from the EPA and Army Corps for wetlands issues.”
From Sen. Paul’s website are these provisions in The Defense of Environment and Property Act of 2012:
Passage of this bill would result in less regulatory heavy-handedness by the EPA and the Corps of Engineers in their dealings with property owners and businesses by ending their authority over truly non-navigable waters. However, this bill is stuck in the Senate Committee for Environment and Public Works, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) who has a pattern of opposing any attempts to rein in the EPA’s out-of-control powers. Here is a list of the Senate Majority and Minority leaders of the Committee that you can call immediately and ask for their support to get this bill reported out of committee and passed by the Senate:
When graded from a constitutional perspective, this is an A+ bill. It should help tremendously to rein in the EPA’s and the Corps of Engineers’ aggressive regulatory tactics that harm American businesses and families.
Urge your Representative and Senators to cosponsor, support, promote and pass this important bill today using our prewritten, editable email message.
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