January 9, 2012 in Idaho, Nation/World

Justices criticize EPA’s dealings with ID homeowners

Associated Press
Kathy Plonka photoBuy this photo

In this Oct. 19, 2011, photo, Chantell and Mike Sackett talk about their battle with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over their right to build a home on a lot near Priest Lake. The EPA said that the lot included wetlands. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the couple.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON — Several Supreme Court justices are criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency for heavy-handed enforcement of rules affecting homeowners.

The justices were considering whether to let a North Idaho couple challenge an EPA order identifying their land as “protected wetlands.” Mike and Chantell Sackett of Priest Lake wanted to build their house on the land. But the EPA says the Sacketts can’t challenge the order to restore the land to wetlands or face thousands of dollars in fines.

Justice Samuel Alito called EPA’s actions “outrageous.” Justice Antonin Scalia noted the “high-handedness of the agency” in dealing with private property. Chief Justice John Roberts said that the EPA’s contention that the Sacketts’ land is wetlands, something the couple disagrees with, would never be put to a test under current procedure.

The Sacketts were filling in a lot near Priest Lake in 2007 to construct a house when EPA officials shut down the project, saying the couple had filled in wetlands without getting a permit.

Seven months after the visit, the EPA issued a compliance order, telling the couple to restore the property or risk fines of up to $32,500 per day. The Sacketts wanted a day in court to argue that their lot wasn’t a wetland.

Attorneys say the case is really about judicial process – whether the Sacketts can challenge the wetlands designation on their property before the EPA seeks enforcement action against the couple through the courts.

The Sacketts are being represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based group that advocates for private property rights and limited government.

Numerous legal briefs from other organizations have been filed in the case. The National Homebuilders Association filed a brief supporting the Sacketts’ position. The Natural Resources Defense Council, which also filed briefs in the case, has called it a corporate-backed effort to weaken regulations of the Clean Water Act.

The justices will rule by summer.

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