The Supreme Court has given Idaho couple Chantell and Mike Sackett a massive victory in their years-long fight with the Environmental Protection Agency, whose agents claimed their residential building land in Priest Lake was protected “wetlands” even though it wasn’t wet, wasn’t attached to navigable waters and was surrounded by homes on other lots.
It was the second straight victory at the high court for the Sacketts, who earlier had to go all the way to the top because the EPA said they couldn’t even challenge the decision in court.
Their land, on which they proposed building a home, is 300 feet from a lake in rural Idaho.
The unanimous ruling said the couple’s land does not, in fact, fall under jurisdiction of the 1972 Clean Water Act. So they do not have to have a federal permit to build, nor will the hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties the EPA threatened against them apply.
The justices reached the same conclusion based on various precedents, but the majority ruling from Justice Samuel Alito said that Clean Water Act jurisdiction applies only when there are wetlands that are “indistinguishable” from larger bodies of water by having a “continuous surface connection.”
Alito said the “wetlands” on the Sacketts’ property are “distinguishable from any possibly covered waters.”
Alito said the law had been applied by the EPA so broadly to was being used “to criminalize mundane activities like moving dirt.”
The Sacketts earlier won at the Supreme Court in 2012. That case focused on whether the Sacketts could even challenge an EPA order in court.
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The fight actually began years earlier, and the decision is important to property developers and other business interests.
Previously, the minority at the court concluded the Clean Water Act covered wetland with a “continuous surface connection” to a waterway but there was not a clear majority.
A report at the Daily Callers News Foundation explained the decision clearly “rolled back” EPA authority.
Joining Alito in the ruling were John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.
Others on the court agreed with the result, but differed on various definitions.
The report explained, “The decision likely means that the Biden administration will need to go back to the drawing board on its new WOTUS [Waters of the U.S.) rule issued in January, which Republicans and some Democrats have criticized for placing a burden on landowners, ranchers and farmers while dramatically expanding the EPA’s authority. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a ‘radical power grab that would give federal bureaucrats sweeping control over nearly every piece of land that touches a pothole, ditch, or puddle.'”
WND has reported on the fight since it was launched, and just weeks ago the couple’s lawyer, Damien Schiff, explained to the court it should adopt a “more stringent test to determine whether the [Clean Water Act] applies to a particular wetland.”
The Sacketts, after buying their land and obtaining local permits, had had a small amount of fill delivered so they could start construction.
But that dry land, the EPA ordered them to acknowledge, was “wetlands” connected to “navigable waters.” The federal didn’t even give them advance notice, but just ordered them to restore the land to its native state, give the EPA access to the land, and pay fines.
At the time, Justice Neil Gorsuch pointed out that the Sacketts’ property is separated from Priest Lake by a road and a row of houses, so he wondered how a landowner is supposed to know whether his property is close enough to the larger body of water that the CWA applies.
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