Since its creation in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency has done more harm than good. EPA regulations cost more than 5 percent of our annual gross domestic product - the equivalent of the costs of defense and homeland security combined. Since EPA regulations have expanded, unemployment in America has increased by 33 percent. This abuse of power by the implementation of regulations infringes upon our basic constitutional rights.
There have been too frequent reports of individual rights being violated by abusive and power-hungry EPA bureaucrats. These regulations have hampered landowners’ ability to manage their private property as they please and have impaired job creation. Americans are suffering from the overreach of regulatory agencies such as the EPA.
In Pennsylvania, take the story of John Pozsgai, an immigrant from Hungary, who worked as a mechanic and eventually saved enough money to purchase the land bordering his home in Morrisville, Pa. This land was an old auto junkyard, and Mr. Pozsgai, taking pride in his home, proceeded to clean up this landfill by removing 7,000 old tires and rusted-out automobiles. However, the EPA did not view this effort as a clean-up but rather a violation of the Clean Water Act. You see, Mr. Pozsgai’s property was a wetland, ambiguously defined by the EPA as any property that has some sort of connection to a wetland. That connection to a wetland was a small drainage ditch located on the edge of his property.
Mr. Pozsgai did not need a permit to dump topsoil on an isolated wetland. However, the Army Corps of Engineers insisted he apply for one. Next, the EPA set up surveillance cameras to capture Mr. Pozsgai filling his land with topsoil. EPA agents then arrested him for “discharging pollutants into waters of the United States.” These “pollutants” consisted of earth, topsoil and sand. The EPA openly admits that no hazardous wastes were involved in the case, yet Mr. Pozsgai was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison and fined $202,000. Mr. Pozsgai spent 1 1/2 years in prison, 1 1/2 in a halfway house, and was under supervised probation for five years. His family went bankrupt and was unable to pay its property taxes on the land.
A similar breach of power can be studied in the case of John Rapanos. Federal officials prosecuted Mr. Rapanos for shoveling dirt around on his property in Bay County, Mich. The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers filed charges against Mr. Rapanos for “polluting” the wetlands by leveling the soil on his property. Under the “migratory molecule” rule, the Army Corps claims that any isolated wetland can fall under federal jurisdiction because there is a speculative possibility that a water molecule from one wetland may reach another navigable waterway. In Mr. Rapanos’ case, the nearest navigable water is roughly 20 miles from his property.
The federal officials had little evidence and U.S. District Judge Lawrence Zatkoff threw out the conviction and refused to follow the unjust federal guidelines enforced by the EPA. Unfortunately, Judge Zatkoff was overruled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Mr. Rapanos later appealed his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, yet the court refused to hear his case. He now faces possible jail time.
Mr. and Mrs. Michael Sackett, of Priest Lake, Idaho, also have fallen victim to the EPA’s abusive and overbearing practices. The Sackett family sought to build a house on its half-acre of land, yet after construction broke ground, the EPA interfered, claiming the family violated the Clean Water Act by placing fill materials into “wetlands.” Their property was designated as a wetland, yet their neighbors have built houses on either side of their lot and their lot already has established sewage lines. Their lot does not harbor a lake, pond or stream, yet the EPA is requiring them to obtain a building permit that would cost more than the value of their land. The Sacketts proceeded by filing suit, but the request was dismissed by a federal judge. The Supreme Court is now considering these violations.
The repeated abuse of power by the EPA has been noted across the country, infringing on the lives of all Americans. Property rights were once regarded as fundamental to the protection of liberty, and it is time that legislators restore the value of personal property and do something about governmental overreach.
On Feb. 7, I introduced the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act). This act is designed to increase accountability in the federal regulatory process. By opening the regulatory process to public scrutiny, government agencies will be held accountable by all American citizens. This is a common-sense reform that will increase congressional liability, improve the regulatory process and protect citizens from restrictions being placed on their economic and private practices. The REINS Act ensures that federal agencies cannot destroy jobs, our economy or our way of life by implementing unnecessary regulations. Harmful and abusive regulations must be put to rest.
Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that the size of the federal government must be reduced and with the imposition of such regulatory abuse, it is no wonder why. Americans are being treated as subjects of an administrative state rather than citizens of a free nation. I am certain that the REINS Act will reduce the power of regulatory bureaucrats and place the power in the hands of the people, allowing them to act and operate as they please.
Sen. Rand Paul is a Republican from Kentucky.