This month, the Supreme Court will review the Sacketts’ four-year-long effort to build on land that the EPA says contains environmentally sensitive wetlands. A decision in the couple’s favor could curtail the EPA’s authority and mean a fundamental change in the way the agency enforces the Clean Water Act.
Even before the court takes up the case, the couple have become a favored cause for developers, corporations, utilities, libertarians and conservative members of Congress, who condemn what one ally told the court is the EPA’s “abominable bureaucratic abuse.”
It is a familiar spot for the agency, which has come under withering criticism in the political arena. Republican presidential contenders routinely denounce the EPA’s actions and regulations as “job-killers,” while GOP House members have voted to ban the agency from regulating greenhouse gases and tried to cut its enforcement budget.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the Sacketts, features their saga on its Web site under the headline “Taking a Bully to the Supreme Court.” Conservative talk-show hosts have taken up the couple’s fight, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) convened a Capitol Hill forum to spotlight what speakers called the dictatorial enforcement policies of the EPA.
“This is what happens when an overzealous federal agency would rather force compliance than give any consideration to private property rights, individual rights, basic decency or common sense,” said the Sacketts’ home-state senator, Mike Crapo (R.)
The issue before the justices is narrow: whether the Sacketts can go to court to challenge the EPA’s initial findings that their lot contains wetlands. But their plight of not being able to develop their land while other homes are built hundreds of feet away and the threat of millions of dollars in fines have provided the EPA’s opponents with a compelling story line.
The EPA has not commented on the case except in court papers. But a coalition of environmental groups, using documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, is attempting to present “another side” of the story to the court.
They say documents from the Sacketts themselves indicate that they learned early on that there was a good chance their lot contained wetlands. “Petitioners chose to ignore the options available to them,” says the brief, prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council and others, and decided to escalate a legal battle rather than negotiate for a permit to build.
The Sacketts’ attorneys have taken the unusual step of objecting to the filing of the NRDC’s amicus brief, saying it is an attempt to inappropriately “expand the record.”