Supreme Court Protects Property Rights from Federal Overreach in Sackett v. EPA Decision

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The Supreme Court today ruled in favor of the Sackett family in a property rights dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA claimed jurisdiction over the Sackett’s property in Idaho through an overly-broad interpretation of the Clean Water Act and threatened them with severe penalties for mundane activities like moving dirt on their property. In Sackett v. EPA, the Court held that the Clean Water Act “extends only to those wetlands that are ‘as a practical matter indistinguishable from the waters of the United States’” and that jurisdiction over other waters are left to states, local communities, and private property owners. The Court was unanimous that the agency overreached its authority under statute and a majority of Justices supported the new test.

Deputy Director of CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment Daren Bakst said:

“Today is a great day for property rights, federalism, and the environment. For decades, the EPA and Corps have tried to use the Clean Water Act as a way to regulate almost every water imaginable. The Court has finally helped to put an end to this abuse. Property owners shouldn’t have to be scared to engage in ordinary activities because some bureaucrat has arbitrarily decided that property, which is often just dry land, is allegedly a regulated water.

“This opinion is a win for the environment as well. Over 50 years ago, Congress made it perfectly clear that states are supposed to play the lead role in addressing water pollution. Legislators understood that states and local communities know their water pollution challenges far better than the federal government and are best suited to address these challenges. But over time, the EPA and Corps have tried to make almost every water, and sometimes even dry land, a federally regulated water. This ignored what Congress wanted and it only hurts the environment. The Court’s opinion helps to restore the will of Congress and what legislators thought was the best way to ensure we have clean water.”

CEI attorney Devin Watkins said:

“Today, the Supreme Court clarified that regulatory power over most wet property remains with the states and the owners — rather than the federal government. It rejected the EPA’s claim that the existence of subsurface flows means that, for instance, many puddles require federal permits to drain. This decision deserves celebration — it protects property rights against federal overreach and abuse.”

Director of CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment Myron Ebell said:

“The Supreme Court has unanimously ended Michael and Chantell Sackett’s long ordeal in defending their right to use their property against the machinations of out-of-control regulators. Thanks to the Sacketts for their perseverance that began with a suit filed in federal district court in 2008 and has now ended with a second Supreme Court decision in their favor. The rights of property owners across America are much more secure today because of the brilliant legal work of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented the Sacketts. Justice Alito’s majority opinion clears up much of a half century of confusion over the limits of federal jurisdiction over wetlands. Justice Thomas’s outstanding concurring opinion clears up the rest of the confusion and provides a clear path forward for future legislation and litigation to set constitutional limits on federal authority.”

ONLINE EVENT JUNE 6: Supreme Court’s Long-Anticipated WOTUS Opinion with Pacific Legal Foundation’s Charles Yates

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