On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that landowners are allowed to sue the Environmental Protection Agency. The ruling states that the lawsuit would allow people to challenge compliance orders handed out by the EPA under the clean water law.
The justices of the Supreme Court unanimously agreed to reject the government’s position that individuals and companies can only seek a review by the court after failing to comply with an EPA order and face costly enforcement action. Instead of siding with the government, the ruling will side with corporate groups, and will put limit on a key power of the EPA.
Justice Antonin Scalia reported that this ruling was a victory for people like Chantell and Michael Sackett. The Sacketts are an Idaho couple who challenged an EPA order in 2007 that required them to restore a wetland area that they had filled with dirt and rock, in order to begin construction on a home near Priest Lake. The order also required that they stop construction on the home.
In their challenge, the Sacketts denied that their property had ever been a wetland, and also complained that they were forced to comply with the order without a court ruling.
The Supreme Court’s ruling comes at a crucial time. The EPA is currently facing harsh criticism from many Republicans in Congress, who say that is has issued clean air regulations that are too ambitious, and also that they have become heavy-handed in their enforcement actions.
The EPA issues nearly 3,000 compliance orders each year, and they all require violators to stop harmful actions and repair any damage caused. The fines they issue can be up to $37,500 each day, plus an additional $37,500 per day if the order is violated.
Attorney Damien Schiff, who argued the case for the Sacketts’ stated that the Environmental Protection Agency “can’t order property owners to dance like marionettes while denying them any meaningful right to appeal to the courts.” He added that that the agency. “will have to change its enforcement techniques for the better.”
Chantell and Michael Sackett’s appeal has drawn support from places like the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Home Builders, and also by General Electric Co, who brought a similar complaint up against the EPA.
In their decision, Justice Scalia reported that the Sacketts will be allowed to bring a civil suit under the Administrative Procedures Act to challenge the EPA’s compliance order. He said that this was their best option, since the decision by the EPA is final, and the couple potentially faces fines of over $40 million.
The justices overturned a previous ruling by a U.S. appeals court, who said that a compliance order could not be brought up for judicial review until after the subject complies.
Do you think that the EPA has gone too far in sending out compliance orders? Or should the Sacketts, and people like them, be forced to comply with everything the EPA says?
Check out the video below detailing Mike and Chantell Sackett’s battle with the EPA: