In a decision described as immensely important for individuals and small-business owners, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously has ruled that a compliance order issued by the Environmental Protection Agency is subject to judicial review.
In the case, Chanttel and Mike Sackett of Iowa had bought a nearly ¾-acre piece of land in 2005 to build a home. The couple received all the required permits from state and local officials and began to fill in a section of the property in preparation for construction.
The couple then received a noticed from the EPA that a portion of their property was wetlands – the land is located close to Priest Lake – and the work done thus far violated the Clean Water Act. The Sacketts were ordered to return the property to its original condition. The couple estimated that cost would actually exceed the amount of money they paid for the piece of land.
Instead, they asked the EPA for a hearing to reconsider its order. The request was denied and the couple faced daily fines of up to $37,500 for each day the EPA order was not followed. A federal appeals court cited the EPA rules that not allowing judicial review of enforcement orders does not violate due process.
The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the couple had no real options, a point that was emphasized by the the National Federal of Independent Business. The only option available to any landowner in that situation is to wait until the EPA attempts to enforce its compliance. At the same time, however, the threat of daily fines is increasing all the while. On top of that, double penalties are possible for willful violators of EPA rules, making it even more difficult for the Sacketts or other landowners to challenge EPA orders.
“In ruling today that individuals can challenge the EPA in court before being penalized or forced into compliance,” the justices have assured landowners that their constitutional right to seek judicial review of government orders is inalienable.”
The next step for the Iowa couple is to challenge the fairness of the EPA rule in court.
The National Federation of Independent Business is an advocacy group for small businesses, representing more than 350,000 small companies throughout the United States.


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