Obama’s EPA Terrorizes Couple Over Their Dream Home

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The Supreme Court agreed to hear the sadly representative case of an Idaho couple dragged through the ringer by our aggressive, money-hungry, bullying EPA. It’s essentially a due process case, intended to settle the narrow question of whether or not individuals should have immediate access to the judicial system when the EPA takes action against them. But there’s more here, because the saga of Mike and Chantell Sackett is a harrowing tale that illustrates just how out of control this agency is.

You can read all about the Sacketts’ fight at the Pacific Legal Foundation website. In brief, the story is this: Six years ago, the couple bought a 0.63 acre parcel alongside a lake, intending to build a house. They started construction, and – like any number of individuals (as opposed to developers) building homes – they didn’t do a formal wetlands delineation before starting to move earth and dump gravel. (A “wetlands delineation” is the investigative process by which experts decide whether there is a wetland on site on not.)

At this point, I need to veer off of the main story for a moment to describe what a wetland is as far as regulators are concerned. Not surprisingly, the regulatory definition of a wetland has little to do with the common sense definition.

First of all, a wetland need not actually be wet. It is rather primarily defined by hydrography (i.e. water flow patterns), soil classification and the type of vegetation present. In my career, I have seen it determined that a couple of tire ruts with a few cattails growing in them are “wetlands.”

For a wetland to be regulated, it must also be connected to “waters of the United States,” which are basically any navigable river, lake or other body of water. Thus, in my tire rut example, the ruts were determined to be part of waters of the United States because they drained into a ditch, which ran into a creek, which ran into a small river, which eventually drained into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which drains into the Des Plaines River, which drains into the Illinois River, which is a navigable water way. So there you go.

When most people think of wetlands protection, they think of big swamps and fens teaming with aquatic birds and beavers engaged in wholly unregulated construction projects. That happens, but much more often wetland protection is about tire ruts, tiny pools or a smattering of cat tails on the edge of a pond. It’s regulation for regulation’s sake, in other words, for delving into such minutia does nothing to improve the world.  The EPA, Army Corps of Engineers and Congress are all at fault here: Congress for granting the Agency and Corps such broad authority and the two regulatory bodies for wielding it so grandiosely.

Back to the Sacketts. The couple got sucked into this surreal world. The EPA ordered them to stop construction and to return the 0.63 acre site to its original condition. If they didn’t, the EPA said it could fine the couple up to $37,500 per day for non-compliance. In fact, the Agency can take such unjustifiably punitive action, for such is the power that Congress has surrendered to it. Unfortunately, it’s not at all unusual to see the EPA use its remarkable ability to levy ridiculous fines as a club in just this way.

Here we come to a rather interesting nuance of the underlying law. The EPA maintains that, under the Clean Water Act there can be no judicial appeal of its ruling that the Sacketts’ property contains a wetland until and unless the EPA actually takes action – in the form of a fine or permit denial, for example. So, simply by doing nothing, the EPA can effectively kill this (or any) project. If the couple defies the Agency’s cease and desist order, they know that they are potentially subject to huge fines. Once the penalty demand comes in they can appeal the EPA’s decision to a court, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that they would win. Thus, the Sacketts face the uncomfortable choice of building and playing Russian Roulette with their life savings, or not building and abandoning both their dream and their property.

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  • JAWilson

    It’s also important to note that the couple had a building permit. They complied with the rules as they knew them.

    • PhillipGaley

      One of the problems immediately appears in the acceptance of the permit's activity in allowance then, of only permitted work or accomplishments—accepting or requesting to be included in a permit process, is equivalent to blanket apriori acceptance of approval or of denial, . . . dimitude, . . . submission, . . . don't be an infidel: submit! Or, we'll rape you, . . .

  • StephenD

    “Saying that you are for reasonable regulation, does not mean you are against regulation of any kind.”

    I’d love to view the process from inception to implementation of these regulations. You’ve got to know there is an Earth shoe, Kaki shorts, spectacled, and bearded “Program Manager” behind much of this that would stop drilling for oil to save the “habitat” of a field mouse. As we wring our hands in desperation for the plight of the field mouse our enemies have us in a death grip and “over a barrel” literally. When will we learn to tell these people to STFU and get out of the way?

  • Linda

    I live in this area and what the EPA has done in Idaho should shock and scare all Americans to death. In short, they have taken over our entire water system from large to small. ALL private well owners in the entire are, and I mean for the entire northern region of the state, had to pay a fee and resubmit to use their water with a limit on what they use…..Meanwhile the EPA has broken all laws in regards to overseeing a cleanup in the Silver Valley area and refuse to communicate with even Governor Otter on it… It is full blown communism. For those of you folks that live in areas where you are not seeing the federal government move to control all water and food production, hold on to your hats. It isn't coming down the road, it is here and now. The state department has been collecting, bottling and storing water for the last few years and will decide where, who, how and when to hand it out……This doesn't even cover the issue of the stimulus money used in this same area of Idaho to destroy roads into our national forests, leaving no access for citizens and or even fire control. Meanwhile a huge camp, FEMA built, is also in the same area now. People, we are in serious trouble in this nation and the vast majority of Americans are totally clueless.

    • Barbc

      My late parents had a farm where one of the fields had a 20 percent slope. They said we could not change the use of the field. It was a wet land and could potentially be flooded for migratory birds ? ? ?
      The only reason the farms in that area could grow crops was because of irrigation. Otherwise the only thing growing there was sagebrush, like what you find in the desert.

    • chris fokine

      Linda, right on. Iam a builder and I have seen the regulations pile up over the years.These people would prefer that no humans exist on our planet. I have had them tell me so.

      Please help get Obama out of office. That would be a good start. Chris

  • BS77

    In the Bay Area of California you can be fined $400 for using your woodstove or fireplace on "Spare the Air" days…..Funny how that volcano in Iceland erupted and blasted more dust, gas, dirt and smoke into the atmosphere than all the planes, trains, cars and coal fired electricity plants in world history….but use your piddly little woodstove and the government will fine you. Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Pinotubo in the Phillipines blasted several CUBIC MILES of dust and gas into the atmosphere…..but use your teeny little fireplace and expect a knock on your door. Amazing.

  • LeavingMD

    Look up Smart Growth and its connection with the UN! Here in Maryland, our boy governor O’Malley. is about to take full control of land use from the elected county officials and give it over to a panel of 5 people that are appointed by the governor. Maryland has been employing Smart Growth policies for over 20 years now. Oh, our boy governor is the new darling of the DemoRATS, so don’t be surprised if you see him giving the keynote speech at the convention.

  • mrbean

    Environmentalists practice what is called "Watermelon Politics" meaning green on the outside and red on the inside, with the EPA and government as their jackboot thugs.

  • Mark Anderson

    Why did they want to build on wetlands.

    • Boschwan

      That's the point you dip. By any rational definition it was NOT wetlands

    • UCSPanther

      I would classify any kind of swamp or bog as "wetlands".

      The property was none of the sort.

  • UCSPanther

    I thought the EPA's rampage in the 1990s got checked by state laws that curbed its power.

  • UCSPanther

    I would not shed any tears for the Sierra club either if it was sanctioned for its activities.

    They have caused a lot of trouble over the years for landowners, loggers, prospectors, others involved with natural resources and even for the poor schmucks who get themselves into trouble by going along with the Sierra Club's antics.

    • Western Canadian

      An utterly vile group of low lifes…. Sadly, the leader of the canadian ‘green’ party has one sole claim to fame. She brought these cons to canada…. She should be shot for doing so.

  • aspacia

    They shut-down our gun range between Highland and Redlands CA. Too many bullet casings were not picked-up. Now, we have no place to target shoot in this are. Albeit, we have a great range in Sin City.

  • PhillipGaley

    Remember the ancient story of Daniel? In order to subvert the regent to their own designs, in sleight of hand, the administrative officers sought to open a path for themselves by ensnaring Daniel in administrative red tape?

    Though it begin small and grow slowly—because people always seek to combine in a community or cabal for self-protection and aggrandizement—administrative evil is a part of administrative gov't, and the history of such shows the 'why' of necessary destruction being eventually applied to every empire, . . . And per the topic of this particular article, one thing we can be sure of, if Mexico and Russia retake certain of those nation's previous holdings on this continent, those EPA regs will have evaporated, . . . and was the kind of thing for which many ancient Romans saw relief in the appearance of the Vandals, . . .