Sixteen Senate Republicans joined a letter last week, led by Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, asking Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to clarify statements made by the Director of EPA's Water Enforcement Division, Mark Pollins, who appeared to dismiss the Supreme Court's reining in of the agency in Sackett vs. EPA saying that it will have little effect on how EPA plans to enforce the law going forward. As Inside EPA reported, Pollins said, "What's available after Sackett? Pretty much everything that was available before Sackett. Internally, it's same old, same old."
This letter follows a recent floor speech given by Senator Inhofe which highlighted increasing bipartisan concerns about the overreach of EPA's Water Office, and outlined plans to hold EPA accountable.
Republicans joining Senator Inhofe on this letter include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), all the Republican members of the Environment and Public Works Committee -- Senators David Vitter (R-LA), John Barrasso (R-WY), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mike Johanns (R-NE), and John Boozman (R-AR) -- as well as Senators James Risch (R-ID), Lisa Murkoswski (R-AK), Dean Heller (R-NV), Rand Paul (R-KY), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).
"It is truly stunning that after the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that the EPA water office exceeded its authority in the Sackett case, any EPA official could say "Internally, it's same old, same old,'" Senator Inhofe said.
"Instead of seeing court rebukes as a wake-up call and immediately beginning to reevaluate policies that are overly aggressive, EPA staff are saying that nothing has changed. EPA's overreach in the Sackett case, as well as other cases, even has news outlets like the Washington Post saying that the agency is "earning a reputation for abuse.' EPA should be using the Clean Water Act for the reason it was intended, not to bully and intimidate citizens such as the Sacketts. I am pleased that my Republican colleagues have joined me in this oversight effort; I will continue to hold EPA responsible for how it intends change its enforcement policies in light of recent court rulings reining it in."
Sacketts vs. EPA: On March 21, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that EPA had exceeded its authority and held that Michael and Chantel Sackett may bring a civil action under the Administrative Procedure Act (ADA) to challenge an administrative compliance order issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Sacketts wanted to build a house on a residential lot they owned in Idaho. EPA, however, deemed that the Sackett's property contained wetlands under the Clean Water Act. This determination meant that the Sacketts would likely be forced to forego building their house or pay exorbitant fines to the EPA. Facing the threat of civil penalties and even imprisonment, the Sackett's requested that EPA hold a hearing on the matter. Predictably, EPA denied this request, so the Sacketts filed suit in the U.S. District Court.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision and ruled that the Administrative Procedure Act precluded review of administrative compliance orders. However, in a strong rebuke to the district's court's decision as well as EPA, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that the issuance of an administrative compliance order was a final agency action, and thus, the Sacketts would have the opportunity to challenge EPA's assertion of jurisdiction.