Several conservative members of the Supreme Court criticized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday for heavy-handed enforcement of rules affecting homeowners after the government told an Idaho couple they can’t challenge an order declaring their future home site a “protected wetlands.”
Justice Antonin Scalia assailed the “high-handedness” of the environmental agency when dealing with private property, and Justice Samuel Alito described some of the EPA’s actions as “outrageous,“ arguing that most people would say ”this kind of thing can’t happen in the United States.”
The EPA said that Mike and Chantell Sackett illegally filled in most of their 0.63-acre lot with dirt and rocks in preparation for building a home. The agency said the property is a wetlands that cannot be disturbed without a permit. The Sacketts had none.
Mike and Chantell Sackett (Image Courtesy: Business Insider)
The couple, who attended the Supreme Court arguments, said they had no reason to suspect there were wetlands on their property. They paid $23,000 for their property in 2005 and decided two years later to build a three-bedroom home. Workers spent three days filling in just under a half-acre of land.
Three EPA officials showed up, said they believed the land was wetlands, asked for a permit and told the workers to stop. Six months later, the EPA sent the order that triggered the court case. The Sacketts wanted to challenge that order, but lower courts have said that they cannot.
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 Anthony Kennedy wondered how far the Supreme Court should go in a ruling, noting that government agencies often threaten citations when people don’t comply with the law. “Health inspectors go into restaurants all the time and say: ‘Unless you fix this, I’m going to give you a citation.’ Fire inspectors, the same thing,” he said.
The Sacketts’ lawyer, Damien M. Schiff, argued that they weren‘t trying to take away EPA’s power. Environmental groups say a purpose of the orders is to make it easier to negotiate a resolution without a protracted legal fight.
“Let EPA administer the act and issue compliance orders,” Schiff said. “But let’s also give homeowners a fair shake, too. Let them have their day in court to contest what the agency has done.”
Alito leveled some of the strongest criticism against the EPA, noting that the Sacketts had to wait until the EPA sued them to even challenge the idea that there were wetlands on their property.
“You think maybe there is a little drainage problem in part of your lot, so you start to build the house and then you get an order from the EPA which says: ‘You have filled in wetlands, so you can’t build your house; remove the fill, put in all kinds of plants; and now you have to let us on your premises whenever we want to,’” Alito said. “You have to turn over to us all sorts of documents, and for every day that you don’t do all this you are accumulating a potential fine of $75,000. And by the way, there is no way you can go to court to challenge our determination that this is a wetlands until such time as we choose to sue you.”
Chief Justice John Roberts said that because of the potential fines, few people are going to challenge the EPA’s determinations.
“Because of the administrative compliance order, you’re really never going to be put to the test, because most land owners aren’t going to say, ‘I’m going to risk the $37,000 a day,” Roberts said. “All EPA has to do is make whatever finding it wants, and realize that in 99 percent of the cases, it’s never going to be put to the test.”
The EPA’s normal procedure is to contact the homeowner before issuing a compliance order, Justice Department lawyer Malcolm Stewart said. A wetlands biologist has also confirmed to The Associated Press that he advised the Sacketts in May 2007 that their property was a wetlands and that there were wetlands on three sides of their land. The Sacketts say that in 2010, other wetlands consultants examined their land and concluded that the first one was wrong.
If the Sacketts “had wanted a judicial resolution of the coverage question without subjecting themselves to potential penalties, they could have filed a permit application before discharging, they could have gotten review there. All we‘re saying is they can’t discharge fill, wait to see whether EPA notices, and then insist upon immediate judicial review if EPA notices and objects,” Stewart said.
However, critics argue these type of regulations, and the tangled mess of paperwork that accompanies them, are unwarranted, unfair and have been enacted with no real authority.
And while judicial activism has become a recent topic of discussion due to the GOP primaries, the question of federal authority in these areas has also been brought to the forefront of a national debate.
Why? Because much like Justices Scalia, Roberts and Alito, many Americans believe departments such as the EPA have been acting well outside the boundaries of their authority. Speaking of which, who gave them authority?
For some perspective, we turn to conservative author Mark Steyn:
For more and more Americans, law has been supplanted by “regulation”–a governing set of rules not legislated by representatives accountable to the people, but invented by an activist bureaucracy, much of which is well to the left of either political party. As the newspapers blandly reported in 2010, the bureaucrats weren’t terribly bothered about whether Congress would pass a cap-and-trade mega-bill into law because, if faint-hearted Dems lose their nerve, the EPA will just “raise” “standards” all by itself.*
Indeed, to borrow from Steyn again, “Where do you go to vote out the EPA?”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
(h/t Business Insider)
*Mark Steyn, “After America: Get Ready For Armageddon.” (Washington, D.C: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2011) 82.
This video speaks for itself. Tell me what you think.
(If this seems like too much for you, after you watch the videos go back down the blog to the videos of people singing. Ahhh…relaxing!)
I’ve heard about Agenda 21 for a while now, but I didn’t know what it was. I was pretty sure by the bits I had read and heard about it that it wasn’t good, but I was afraid to read more. I have enough problems sleeping already. I just didn’t want one more thing to worry about, especially one I didn’t know how to change. I’m just starting to stand up about the things I already know about. I was sure I couldn’t do anything about this.
Well, I changed my mind. I decided the least I could do was watch this video and then make sure I tell as many people as possible. Please watch this video and wake up to what’s happening in our country to slowly erode our rights and freedoms.
I’ve tried as much as possible to stay away from sites that might be considered conspiracy sites, but with Agenda 21 it all sounds like one big conspiracy theory. Study it for yourself. I’m sure if you think about it and look around your city and local community you will see where this is happening where you live. Stand up! Get involved! Do something! Make your voice heard a community meetings and town halls. Show up and be heard. Don’t let them fool you with the pretty talk about Social Justice, Sustainability, or any of the other fluffy, lighthearted words they use to distract you. I have found some sites that will give you some helpful information. I got the following two, EXCELLENT, videos from Freedom Advocates. I found lots of helpful information there.
There are plenty of websites if you just google ‘Agenda 21’. I tried to stay away from any that seemed too crazy. The problem is that Agenda 21 does sound too crazy to be true, but it’s not.
This is wrong. Wrong for us and wrong for our country. Look around you. When the video mentions certain types of neighborhoods where you both live and work in the same building, I immediately thought of three different complexes of this type near me. They even look similar. Watch these two videos and please share them with your friends and co-workers. We need to wake up! After all, did we ever think there would be an actual socialist who surrounds himself with communists in the White House?
The first video is called “Agenda 21 – Part 1” and the second is called, “The Philosophy fo Liberty”. I found both videos extremely interesting and helpful. I was a little nervous about “The Philosophy of Liberty”, because the article mentions Ron Paul. So, let me just say while I don’t support Ron Paul politically and I think he’s a bit loony, he has many ideas I agree with. Apparently this is one of them. There is a website called The Philosophy of Liberty where you can get more information about this.
Now the videos:
1. Uploaded by UNATwentyOne on Aug 22, 2011
Agenda 21 – PartOne–Introduction and Property Rights – How Agenda 21 affects or will affect every living human; and its three pronged offensive: Strip Property Rights, (mis)Education, and Depopulation.
2. The philosophy of liberty is based on self-ownership. This simple but elegant and hard-hitting animation will explain exactly what that means. It’s a great tool anyone can use to educate children and adults about our right to life, liberty, and the property we create – and our responsibility to think, speak and act.
For more info and/or to download a free DVD version of this video, see: http://www.philosophyofliberty.blogspot.com