The Sacketts May Have Saved American Mining And Oil Exploration

On March 21, with a 9-0 vote, the United State Supreme Court ruled that landowners have a right to direct, meaningful judicial review if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effectively seizes control of their property by declaring it to be “wetlands.”

Mike and Chantell Sackett wanted to build the home of their dreams in a lakeside location in Idaho. Six years ago they bought a 0.63-acre parcel for $23,000. The Sacketts’ parcel is 500 feet west of Priest Lake, separated from the lake by a house and a road.

EPA issued a “compliance” order, declaring the Sackett’s property “wetlands,” and demanding that the Sacketts stop construction, remove the gravel and return the land to EPA’s liking. The compliance order carried fines anywhere from $32,500 a day to $75,000 a day. which would accrue unitl such time as the EPA deceided to sue for enforcement. has an extensive report on the case history.

This Bloomberg report summarizes the issue addressed in the ruling. What’s worth noting about the 1,500 compliance orders issued per year is that, as we’ve noted before, environmentalists are urging the EPA to shut down new oil exploration and mining projects, like Alaska’s Pebble Mine, using the same prememtive Clean Water Act tactics.

This is a very good day for those who want America to increase its energy and mineral independence.

More on the story from Ed Morrissey, CNN, Open Market, Resourceful Earth

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Buffett Rule Mega-Fail
  • It’s a blow to the widespread practice of regulatory fines being used for coercion instead of legitimately punishing noncompliance.   But even though it’s a big step, it is far from the end of it.  Not everyone can afford the legal fees to take federal agencies to court to get that judicial review.  That’s effectively a fine in itself and, since not everyone can pay, a denial of rights based on financial status.

    Congress should act.  It may be impossible to oversee all these abusive regulations, but it could require agencies to fund legal representation for appeals of fines over a certain amount.  That would be an effective limitation.  Those regulations which carry a statutory fine would not be affected.

    • MichaelLaprarie

      I agree.  I think $50,000 is a fair amout.  If the EPA assesses an excessive fine for noncompliance they should be prepared to prove their case in court.  They should also be required to provide the defendant with information on the average duration of an EPA-sanctioned Federal court hearing and the expected cost of legal representation.  If the cost of legal representation exceeds the cost of the fine, or if the defendant can demonstrate the inability to afford representation, the EPA should be required to provide it for them free of charge.

      Having worked in the environmental field for over a decade, I would also want to see such a rule make a clear differentiation between people caught violating regulations for handling and disposing of hazardous materials (petroleum by-products, lead paint debris, asbestos, etc.) — that is, people creating actual environmental hazards — and people inadvertently caught up in the EPA’s continual power grabs.

  • cylde

    Their legal representation i believe was provided by the Pacific Legal Foundation, if you think the govt. bureaucrats should be challenged ,do not expect your congressman to do squat, but send a contribution to these people that do fight for your rights.

  • The EPA should be abolished, every single existing employee fired.  Perhaps then a new agency can be established with an explicitly limited mandate and not a single employee from the old EPA allowed in.

    The EPA is one of the most egregious constitutional violators we have.

    • jim_m

       Government exists to perpetuate itself.  Government agencies exist to perpetuate themselves and to expand their mandate.  MOst people in government define success as not achieving some goal, but in terms of number of people served by a program and how large the program becomes. 

      Look at how they describe the success of food stamps.  It is not in getting people to be able to support themselves but it is in how many people they can give the infernal stamps to.

      The EPA is only the most egregious constitutional violator currently in the public eye.  All agencies are the same and would take the same liberties if given half a chance.  The whole concept of administrative law where unelected bureaucrats can draft “regulations” that have the force of law is questionably constitutional.  Congress has abandoned its responsibility to craft laws and pass them in favor of a faceless, unaccountable bureaucracy that promulgates vast numbers of laws that no one can possibly keep track of.  There is a reason they say that the average American commits 3 federal crimes per day. 

  • EricSteel

    Thanks Kevin.  I hadn’t paid much attention to that case until this posting.  But that is a significant and wide reaching ruling by SCOTUS.

    • jim_m

       It’s not as wide ranging as you might think.  The Court deliberately avoided addressing issues of constitutional rights and ruled against the EPA on statutory grounds.In that sense the ruling is a bit of a disappointment.

      • PBunyan

        True that.  This battle may have been won, but the war is far from over.

  • Hank_M

    $32,500 daily fines for non-compliance. This on a small tract of land that cost $23,000 and is less than an acre.

    This isn’t about preserving any ecology. This is about an out-of-control federal agency that for some reason, wants to destroy these people financially.

    Not only should the Sacketts be able to sue, the EPA people directly responsible for this, should be called out publicly to explain their decisions.

    This should also serve as a  cautionary tale for those who support Obamacare.

  • jim_m

    Essentially, this is nothing but a distraction for the EPA.  The real game for them is the MACT rule which will force the closure of 24 power plants in the US and is expected to permanently eliminate 1.44 million jobs in the energy, mining and related sectors of the economy.

    While we bitch about this one side show (which truly is an offensive violation of civil rights) they are marching on to do far more damage.

  • It’s nice to know there is real Sacketts’  who ride for the right reasons and cause.

  • Vagabond661

    So the 4 branches of government is the Judicial, Executive, Legislative and the EPA?

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