The Clean Water Act Hits Home

The Property Rights Alliance has long been concerned about the power given to the government by the Clean Water Act (CWA). This act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tremendous authority over private property by allowing it to regulate virtually any body of water, from puddles to great lakes, in the name of clean water. Predictably, this has led to an endless overreach by the EPA, which uses it to file over 3,000 “administrative compliance orders” per year against businesses and individuals.

The orders do tremendous harm to the economy as well as to people’s lives by preventing them from using their property the way they had intended. This is one reason that the Physical Property Rights ranking by the PRA’s International Property Rights Index (IPRI) has shown a decline in recent years for the United States.

The great harm that each and everyone one of these “administrative compliance orders” causes has recently been brought home by a couple from Idaho. Mike and Chantell Sackett purchased .63 acres of land for $23,000 in 2005 to build their dream home. Despite being 500 feet from the nearest body of water, and that the EPA’s own land registry did not list the land as a wetland, the EPA ruled that the parcel is a wetland. This prohibited the Sacketts from building their house. To make matters worse, the EPA fined them over $36,000 a day for bringing in gravel and not turning in an annual report on the state of the land. The fine has grown to reach over $40 million. While the Sackett’s have sued the EPA, the courts have ruled that the couple has no right to challenge the decision, and that EPA orders are immune from judicial review.

Currently, the Sacketts live in a rental home next to their property, as they wait for the Supreme Court to hear their case this term. Legal experts are divided as to whether or not the Sacketts are likely to win their appeal. Hopefully, however, the Supreme Court will end this abuse by the government, sending a clear signal that property rights are still upheld strongly here in the U.S.

To learn more about the Sackett’s story, and to see where the case is now, click here for a short video by Mark Hyman, at Sinclair Broadcasting.