- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Federal agencies are out of control. The grant of virtually unlimited power with no  accountability has gone to the heads of some unelected bureaucrats, and nowhere is that more true than at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Even the Supreme Court has had enough. All nine justices agreed Wednesday that the agency has finally gone too far.

EPA has long been the darling of big government’s fans. They imagine bad, corporate fat cats are itching to dump toxic waste into pristine rivers and other navigable waterways, only to be thwarted by the noble public servants enforcing the Clean Water Act. The reality couldn’t be more different.

In 2007, Mike and Chantell Sackett decided to build a three-bedroom dream home with a view of Idaho’s Priest Lake. They purchased a plot of land near other homes and took care to meet each requirement for securing a building permit. “We did everything right,” Mr. Sackett explained at a forum last year with Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican.

Their dream turned into a nightmare when a trio of EPA officials showed up out of the blue to insist that their 2/3 acre parcel of land, which has no standing water, was somehow a wetland. It’s not on the EPA’s own list of wetlands, and experts hired by the Sacketts confirmed it doesn’t meet the definition. EPA didn’t care.

The bureaucracy demanded they tear down the foundation that had already been laid for the house and restore the land to its natural state, or face a daily penalty of $75,000. “Bullying – that’s what the EPA does,” said Mrs. Sackett. “They came into our lives, took our property, put us in limbo, told us we can’t do anything with it, and then threatened us with fines.”

Worse, EPA insisted that their decision, known as an administrative compliance order, was not subject to appeal. The best the Sacketts could hope to do was voluntarily comply with the order, undertake the expensive process of applying for a permit to build on a wetland and wait for it to be denied. Then, and only then, they could have their day in court. Not so fast, according to Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote, “There is no reason to think that the Clean Water Act was uniquely designed to enable the strong-arming of regulated parties into ‘voluntary compliance’ without the opportunity for judicial review.”

The high court’s decision only referred in passing to the underlying merits of the EPA’s case, which are severely lacking. Mr. Paul introduced the Defense of Environment and Property Act to remedy the situation. His bill clarifies that “navigable waters” actually mean large, continuously flowing bodies of water, not sand pits, intermittent streams or dry land with a lake view.

Such legislation is long overdue because the bureaucracy is fundamentally broken. Instead of serving a legitimate, limited need, EPA is focused on expanding its own power. The Sacketts may have prevailed in their expensive, five-year fight, but thousands more businesses and individuals have taken the safer road of compliance with irrational demands – at a tremendous cost to our economy. As long as these self-serving bureaucrats are allowed to distract American industry, recovery will remain elusive.