Governor Sean Parnell and Attorney General Michael Geraghty today welcomed the news that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision denying property owners access to the courts.
The State of Alaska took the lead on a multi-state brief urging the Supreme Court to permit property owners to challenge arbitrary federal compliance orders issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA had ordered property owners Michael and Chantell Sackett to halt construction of their home because, in the EPA's opinion, the 0.63 acre lot was a wetland subject to the EPA's regulation under the Clean Water Act.
When the Sacketts asked a court to review whether the EPA had jurisdiction over their property, the trial court and the 9th Circuit held that the Clean Water Act precludes pre-enforcement judicial review of the compliance order. Instead, the Sacketts would have only two choices. They could wait for the EPA to sue them to enforce the order, and in the meantime accrue fines of up to $75,000 per day. Alternatively, the Sacketts could restore their lot to its original condition, conduct a three-year environmental monitoring program, and request a permit to redo the work they had already done. Then, and only then, could the Sacketts ask the court to determine the reach of the federal agency's jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court found unanimously that neither option provided the Sacketts with a meaningful remedy, and that the Sacketts should have an avenue to challenge the order now.
"This ruling is great news for the Sacketts and for Alaskan families," Governor Parnell said. "Alaska is vulnerable when it comes to EPA regulations. Alaska possesses the largest geographic footprint of any state, more wetlands than all other states combined, and more coastline than the entire contiguous 48 states. We will continue to fight to protect property owners."
"Not only does the EPA's unchecked use of compliance orders threaten the rights of private property owners, that practice also serves to undermine and encroach upon the states' primary right and authority to regulate land and water uses," Attorney General Michael Geraghty said. "With this Supreme Court decision, we hope the EPA will be more circumspect in exercising its use of compliance orders."