January 5, 2012

Chantell Sackett responds

By Chantell Sackett responds

Some recent articles about Sackett v. EPA, such as those mentioned and linked to by Timothy Sandefur in his post earlier today, as well as comments on those articles, seem to want to steer this case toward the Sacketts personally, rather than the issues in this case.  But this case is not really about the Sacketts or even about wetlands. It is about the procedures the EPA employs to enforce the laws it administers, and whether those enforcement procedures afford adequate, constitutionally-guaranteed due process to the regulated public. In other words, this case is about the EPA and government accountability: it is the EPA that is on trial, not the Sacketts.

In a recent brief filed with the Court, the Natural Resources Defense Council similarly tried to redirect the attention in this case to the Sacketts, and, worse, seemed to suggest that they have been dishonest regarding their beliefs about the character of their property in their dispute with the EPA. As a result, PLF filed this additional pleading with the Supreme Court, which is accompanied by Chantell Sackett’s declaration.

As Chantell’s declaration makes clear, the Sacketts have an honest dispute with the EPA whether their half-acre lot contains wetlands subject to federal control as the EPA claims. We would also point out that this dispute is neither unusual nor wrong-headed: EPA has a history of overreaching. For example, in 2001 and again in 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court issued decisions declaring that the federal government had exceeded its authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate certain lands and waters. Had the regulated parties in those cases simply taken EPA at their word, the EPA might today be allowed to regulate whatever it wanted at will. However, as Americans, under our Constitution, we have the right to question and challenge the government at every level . . . and sometimes our courts hold that the government is, indeed, wrong.

Does the Sackett property contain wetlands subject to EPA regulation? The EPA says yes, and the Sacketts say no. Which is precisely why the Sacketts are fighting for the right to their day in court. For the first time in the 40-year history of the Clean Water Act, the Supreme Court will decide whether landowners have a constitutional right to go to court to contest potentially illegal EPA  enforcement actions.

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Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency

Chantell and Michael Sackett received a local permit to build a modest three-bedroom home on a half-acre lot in an existing, partially built-out residential subdivision in Priest Lake, Idaho. The home poses no threat to water quality but federal EPA regulators nonetheless declared their property to contain a wetland and demanded they stop all work and restore the lot to its natural condition or pay fines of up to $75,000 per day. When they sued to challenge this order, EPA asserted they had no right to judicial review. The district court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, and tossed their lawsuit out of court. The United States Supreme Court unanimously reversed, ruling that failure to allow the lawsuit violated the Sacketts’ constitutional due process rights. They are now litigating their claims in federal district court in Idaho.

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