Washington, D.C.; March 30, 2020: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has formally withdrawn an administrative compliance order it issued in 2007 against Michael and Chantell Sackett, removing the threat of crushing fines that the couple has lived under for more than a decade.
The EPA accused the couple of illegally filling a wetland under the Clean Water Act when they broke ground to build their house in a residential neighborhood near Priest Lake, Idaho. The EPA also told the Sacketts that no home could be built on the lot, despite never establishing that the lot is a wetland under congressionally mandated criteria.
The Sacketts have spent the past 12 years fighting the EPA in federal courts — including at the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The Sacketts are relieved that the EPA removed its years-long threat of ruinous penalties against them,” said Pacific Legal Foundation senior attorney Tony Francois. “This case is a dramatic illustration of how heavily the bureaucratic hand of the administrative state can fall on ordinary Americans. One day the Sacketts were trying to build a house in a residential neighborhood; the next, they were facing fines of up to $75,000 per day. The Sacketts’ resolve and perseverance in this case is admirable.”
Despite the welcome news, an important detail remains unresolved: whether the Sacketts can now build on the lot.
“While the compliance order is withdrawn, it’s not clear whether the Sacketts can build anything without permission from the EPA. The EPA’s determination that the Sacketts’ vacant lot is a federally regulated wetland appears to remain in effect,” Francois explained. “We will ask the Court of Appeals to resolve that question in the Sacketts’ favor if EPA won’t clarify it. Otherwise, the Sacketts remain under the threat of future enforcement action or a citizen suit if they proceed to build on the lot.”
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Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 12 victories out of 14 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.