Members of the U.S. Senate and House Western Caucuses came together today to discuss the impacts of federal overreach on individuals, communities and businesses. Idaho was well represented at the bicameral hearing: Senator Mike Crapo served as co-chair, Senator Jim Risch and Congressman Raùl Labrador provided remarks and questions, and special witnesses included Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter and Mike and Chantell Sackett of Priest Lake, Idaho.
The hearing, entitled "Washington Barriers to Prosperity and Property Rights in the West," focused on the Administration's environmental and natural resource policies and their negative impact on jobs, economic growth and private property rights in western states and communities. The hearing was held to shed light on real world examples of government overreach, the extent of the problems and what can be done to fix them. During the hearing, members of the caucuses listened to witness' testimony and discussed the impacts that an overly-aggressive federal agenda can have on the rights of western states and individuals to manage their lands and resources.
Mike and Chantell Sackett shared their impression of how regulatory abuse hurts individuals, families, communities and the economy as a whole. In 2005, the Sacketts were in the early stages of building a home a short distance from the shore of Priest Lake when representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers showed up on their property and told them that they needed a federal wetlands permit to build there. Despite no sign of standing water on the property, government agents ordered the Sacketts to stop their work, restore the land, and get a federal wetlands permit if they wished to continue building their home. Deeply concerned about their rights as landowners and the merits of the government's argument, the Sacketts sued the EPA. Just last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard their case. While the Court's decision may not be revealed until summer, Crapo told those at the hearing today he is cautiously optimistic that the Court will side with the Sacketts.
Highlights from the hearing and reaction include:
Senator Crapo: "We are not here today to question the merits of protecting our environment. We all support clean air and water and the protection of our treasured landscapes and resources. But we must be concerned when enforcement starts becoming an end unto itself and we start ignoring the impacts that arbitrary, heavy-handed federal enforcement can have on the lives of people and their communities."
Senator Risch: "It would be nice to say these are unusual stories, but those of us who represent western states hear these things every single day. Where is the common sense? It is absolutely gone."
Congressman Labrador: "The rugged individualism upon which Idaho was founded is being compromised by an overreaching federal government at nearly every turn. Witnesses at today's Western Caucus hearing confirmed what we feared: the regulatory burden imposed by the federal government onto Idaho's families and businesses impairs their ability to thrive. The Idaho Delegation is committed to undoing the damages caused by excessive regulation and to returning the entire West to prosperity."
Governor Otter: "I want to thank Senator Mike Crapo and Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Pearce for allowing me the opportunity to express just some of the concerns and frustrations shared by untold thousands of westerners who have been adversely impacted, or their way of life irreparably harmed, by four years of Obama administration natural resource policies. Whether it's the top-down edicts from Washington over the Endangered Species Act, or the arbitrary nature of the federally imposed gridlock that has become this administration's preferred management approach towards millions of acres of forests in the West, many Idahoans understandably feel their voice is being ignored by a government that just doesn't care. These policies and that kind of arrogant disregard for the people most impacted by the promulgation of these policies must change."
Mike and Chantell Sackett: "The EPA issues thousands of wetlands compliance orders every year, and, like us, the landowners can't appeal them directly to court. So we don't know how many of these orders are based on real environmental facts, or on superficial, shoddy, drive-by reviews, as in our case. In our case, EPA never did any testing on our property before ordering us to stop work and walk away from our dreams. At the oral argument, Justice Alito said this was "outrageous,' and we agree. We know this much about EPA's wetlands compliance orders: They stop people from using their property, and that destroys jobs. From what we can see based on our own experience, EPA must be one of America's most efficient job-killing machines."