Ethan A. Huff
March 28, 2012
An Idaho couple that was ordered recently by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop building a house on their own property and pay fines of up to $75,000 a day until the property was returned back to its original condition, has been granted due process and a hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling is a first as it now allows property owners to challenge the EPA’s violation allegations prior to, rather than after, enforcement actions are taken.
In 2005, Mike and Chantell Sackett purchased three-quarters of an acre plot of land near Priest Lake, Idaho, upon which they planned to build a modest, three-bedroom house. After jumping through all the proper regulatory hoops, which included obtaining permits and verification that the land was suitable for building a structure in compliance with local and federal law, the Sacketts broke ground on their house in 2007.
But the process quickly went awry when EPA officials showed up at the property after gravel, dirt, and other materials had already been brought in, and ordered the Sacketts to produce a permit showing that they were allowed to build a structure in a so-called “wetlands” area. The Sacketts tried to explain that the site was not located in a wetlands area and that all the proper permits had been filed, but the officials still ordered them to restore the site back to its original condition or else face up to $75,000 a day in fines.
EPA compliance orders operate outside constitutional bounds, and are a threat to individual liberty and private property rights
Because of the unconstitutional way in which EPA compliance orders are structured, the Sacketts had no way of challenging the one issued to them prior to the federal government taking enforcement action against them if they continued to build their house. If the EPA decides one day, for instance, that your property is in violation of theClean Water Act(CWA) — even if it is not — the agency can demand that you pay thousands of dollars in fines without due process or any sort of trial.
But thanks to a unanimous Supreme Court decision in the Sackett case, property owners have at least regained their constitutional right to due process in challenging the validity of arbitrary compliance orders before any enforcement action is taken. And the decision sets a precedent for all other property owners who may one day face the regulatory wrath of an out-of-control EPA that routinely acts outside constitutional bounds.
The Sacketts, however, may still end up having to comply with the EPA’s order anyway, should a judge end up deciding that the property is a wetland and declare that the Sacketts’ land modifications constitute CWA violations. It can only be hoped that common sense justice, rather than police state tyranny, will prevail in this important case.
“With an annual budget of $10 billion of your tax dollars and 17,000 agents at its disposal, is the EPA so inefficient that it is incapable of designating the lot a wetland before the Sacketts purchased it?” asks Geoff Cutler fromThe Pilotin a recent piece on the case. “The EPA was created with the noble cause of cleaning out pollution from our waterways. Where did it get police state authority to essentially take away lawfully purchased private property?”
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This article was posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 2:46 am