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One Couple's Fight With the EPA & What it Could Mean for Property Rights

Back in January, The Blaze reported the following:

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 couldn’t challenge an order declaring their future home site a “protected wetlands.”

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 wetland that cannot be disturbed without a permit. The Sacketts had none.

Naturally, the Sacketts decided to challenge the EPA and their fight has brought them all the way to the Supreme Court. Should they be successful in their crusade against the federal agency, they would set a groundbreaking precedent.

“The decision in the Supreme Court case Sackett v. EPA, due later this spring, could very well affect the meaning of property rights and due process in the United States,” reports.

But let’s revisit how the Sacketts got caught up in this mess in the first place.

See Reason's presentation on the Sackett's story (via

"I remember coming home, told my mom and dad that I was going to move to Priest Lake, and they just said, 'Oh, no you're not.' And I said, 'Oh yeah. Yeah I am,'" Sackett told Reason.

Sackett and his wife, Chantelle Sackett, bought a plot of land near Priest Lake and started to build their home.

“After securing the necessary permits from local authorities, the Sacketts were only three days into the process of clearing the land when officials from the EPA showed up and put their dreams on hold,” Reason notes.

Three EPA officials showed up, said they believed the land was wetlands, asked for the appropriate permits, and told the workers to stop. Six months later, the EPA sent the order that triggered the court case.

“The EPA informed the Sacketts that they suspected they were building on wetlands and had to cease work immediately,” Reason reports, “The Sacketts were stunned because their property was a completely landlocked lot within an existing subdivision. When Chantelle Sackett asked for evidence, the EPA pointed her to the National Fish and Wildlife Wetlands Inventory, which showed them that their lot... was not on an existing wetland.”

Wait. What?

Yep, according to the Wetlands Inventory, the Sackett’s property wasn't on existing wetlands. So how did the EPA respond to this?

“The EPA responded [by issuing] what's known as a compliance order, which said that the Sacketts were in violation of the Clean Water Act and subject to fines of up to $37,500 a day,” Reason reports.

"You go to bed with that on your mind every night," said Mike Sackett, who owns a contracting company. "It's been painful personally. It's been painful on our business."The Sacketts tried to settle the dispute in court but lost based on the EPA's claim that a “compliance order is nothing more than a warning and that they cannot be challenged until they actually enforce the fines," which, by the way, were getting bigger with each day.

"The only way the Sacketts could get judicial review that way, was by ignoring the compliance order," said Damien Schiff, attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation. "EPA still might just sit on its hands and let the possible fines pile up."

Despite losing to the EPA in lower courts, Schiff and the Pacific Legal Foundation took the case to the Supreme Court, The Blaze reported back in January. Some readers might remember that Justices Scalia, Roberts, and Alito accused the EPA of acting with an “outrageous” “high-handedness,” and blasted the entire ordeal by saying “this kind of thing can’t happen in the United States.”

"I was surprised by some of the questions that came from the justices," said Mike Sackett. "They were questions that we would've asked."

Should the Sacketts win, what would this mean?

“If the Sacketts do win in the Supreme Court, they will then have the opportunity to actually challenge the EPA's compliance order in the lower courts,” Reason explains. “Just having the opportunity to challenge that, says Schiff, would be a major victory for property rights and for due process of law.”

One last thing…
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