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EPA wetlands order can be challenged by land owners, Supreme Court rules

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The justices did not rule that the couple may proceed with construction of their home on the disputed tract. Instead, the high court decision sets the stage for a federal judge to examine the EPA order. In effect, the Sacketts won the opportunity to present their case to a neutral judge.

“We are very thankful to the Supreme Court for affirming that we have rights … and that the EPA is not beyond the control of the courts and the Constitution,” Mr. Sackett said in a written statement.

“The EPA used bullying and threats of terrifying fines, and has made our life hell for the past five years,” Sackett said. “It said we could not go to court and challenge their bogus claim that our small lot had ‘wetlands’ on it.”

He added: “As this nightmare went on, we rubbed our eyes and started to wonder if we were living in some totalitarian country.”

The Supreme Court decision represents a victory for property owners faced with the prospect of EPA action that effectively seizes control of their land by declaring it a “wetland,” said Damien Schiff, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the Sacketts.

“The justices have made it clear that EPA bureaucrats are answerable to the law and the courts just like the rest of us,” Mr. Schiff said in a statement. “EPA will have to be prepared to show a reviewing court that its wetlands regulations are really necessary – not just a power trip.”

At the heart of the dispute is a .63-acre lot near Idaho’s scenic Priest Lake that the Sacketts purchased in 2005 for $23,000.

After obtaining local permits in 2007, the couple began grading the property with soil and rock in preparation for construction of a three-bedroom home.

As the grading got underway, EPA officials arrived at the site and ordered the work to stop. They advised the Sacketts that the tract was a federally-regulated wetland and that the fill material was a form of pollution in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The Sacketts disagreed that their lot was a “wetland” subject to federal regulation. The EPA responded by issuing a compliance order requiring them to immediately remove all fill material from the site and restore the property to its original condition. The order required the couple to plant new trees and shrubs and keep a fence around the lot for three growing seasons.

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