On Wednesday the Supreme Court released a unanimous decision in the case of Sackett v. EPA siding with the landowners against the agency. In 2007 the Environmental Protection Agency stopped the Sacketts from building a home on a half-acre lot in Idaho, claiming that there were wetlands on the property and that they must return the land to the previous state and then apply for a permit. They tried to appeal to EPA but were turned down to have a hearing on the matter, so they took the issue to court challenging the EPA's Administrative Compliance Order.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association Deputy Environmental Counsel Ashley Lyon McDonald says this decision by the Supreme Court is a very important ruling for landowners across the country.
"A compliance order, according to the agency, they argued isn't a final agency action, but the Supreme Court unanimously disagreed with the agency and said that it was a final agency action, which is subject to judicial review," McDonald said. "So now landowners are able to challenge a jurisdictional finding of a wetland or a water of the United States in general under the Clean Water Act."
For the Sacketts the decision by the Supreme Court means they have the right to challenge the Administrative Compliance Order. So they head back to district court to challenge it on merit.
"But that is an important concept for all landowners who before had been precluded from being able to even challenge these determinations," McDonald said. "So it really is an important decision and one that we wholeheartedly support."
NCBA had hoped the Supreme Court would have ruled on the issue more broadly, but they kept the ruling fairly narrow.
"We argued in the amicus brief for the court to touch on a little more, or a little broader than this issue and to make or clarify to what extent the jurisdiction of the federal government is under the Clean Water Act," McDonald said. "There has been a lot of confusion over the last few years with some of the Supreme Court decisions about the extent of that authority and we were hoping that the court would touch on that and lay down some clear lines on where that federal jurisdiction ends."
NCBA was joined by the Public Lands Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation in filing amicus briefs with the court. AFBF President Bob Stallman says that they agree with the court's decision and that while allowing landowners to sue is a start, Congress needs to clarify the reach of the Clean Water Act.