In a major ruling today, the US Supreme Court has handed the Environmental Protection Agency a serious and necessary defeat. The case concerns landowners who wanted to build their dream home on a plot of land they had bought for the purpose. The EPA swooped in and told the landowners, Chantell and Michael Sackett, that it would not allow them to build, claiming that the land was a “wetland.” It wasn’t. The couple tried taking the EPA to court, but the EPA ruled that they had no right to go to court, and had instead to deal only with the EPA — which had already ruled against them and was set to impose huge fines that threatened to bankrupt them. SCOTUS gave the EPA the back of its hand.
The justices unanimously rejected the U.S. government’s position that individuals or companies must first fail to comply with an EPA order and face potentially costly enforcement action before a court can review the case.
The opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia was a victory for an Idaho couple who challenged a 2007 EPA order that required them to restore a wetland they had filled with dirt and rock as they began to build a new vacation home near Priest Lake. They were also told to stop construction on the home.
The couple, Chantell and Michael Sackett, denied their property had ever contained a wetland and complained they were being forced to comply with an order without a court hearing.
Their appeal drew support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Home Builders and General Electric Co, a company that had made a similar challenge to the EPA compliance orders.
The Supreme Court’s ruling comes at a time when the EPA has faced fierce criticism from many Republicans in Congress who say it has issued the most ambitious clean air regulations in decades and has become heavy-handed in enforcement actions.
Scalia concluded the Sacketts may bring a civil lawsuit under the Administrative Procedures Act to challenge the EPA’s order.