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Arlington, Va. — Repeated power grabs by the Environmental Protection Agency have seriously imperiled the rights of property owners and must be dialed back, argued Americans for Prosperity Foundation in a Supreme Court brief today.
The EPA’s strong-arm tactics have less to do with safeguarding the environment than with the agency’s desire for raw power over private land use, said AFPF’s filing in the case Sackett v. EPA.
“AFPF believes the real-world stakes here are high and radiate beyond the facts of this case,” the brief reads. “The practical and financial burdens foisted on state and local governments and important industries like the agricultural sector, not to mention an untold number of private property owners throughout the Nation, by EPA’s efforts to redraw the boundaries of its power…cannot be overstated.”
The genesis of Sackett v. EPA: For more than 15 years, Michael and Chantell Sackett have sought to build a family home on their property in a residential neighborhood near Priest Lake, Idaho. In 2007, they broke ground with all the needed local permits in hand. That’s when the EPA stepped in, ordering all construction to cease, demanding that the Sacketts “restore” the property to its prior state, and threatening up to a $75,000-per-day fine if the Sacketts failed to comply. The agency’s justification: that moisture on the Sacketts’ land could be regulated as “navigable waters” under authority purportedly granted to the EPA by the Clean Water Act of 1972.
The Sacketts have been locked in litigation ever since, with the Supreme Court agreeing to decide their case on the merits next term.
The Clean Water Act “does not permit, let alone clearly authorize, EPA to unilaterally expand the scope of its regulatory power under the Act to extend to soggy land—often miles away from ‘navigable waters’ as any ordinary person would understand the term,” AFPF’s brief argues. “And it does not authorize EPA to regulate private property owners like the Sacketts, who simply wanted to build a house on a 2/3 acre parcel of land they own in an area already developed by other homeowners, based on the say-so of a government bureaucrat.”
“When you look past the legalese, the government actions that gave rise to this case are chilling to anyone who has ever aspired to own a home,” said AFPF Regulatory Counsel Michael Pepson of the Sackett case. “The implications of this case on land use for business purposes—particularly agriculture—extend way beyond the poor Sacketts’ desire to build a house. That’s what makes this one of the most important property rights cases since Kelo v. New London.”
Read the full AFPF brief here