The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday ruled unanimously [opinion, PDF] in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that landowners can bring a suit directly against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] challenging the agency's order not to build on residential property that is protected wetlands. This case gives citizens the right, under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) [text], to sue the EPA before the agency enforces the order. The decision, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, allows Idaho landowners to challenge the EPA's order under the Clean Water Act (CWA) [text, PDF] to stop development on a parcel of property designated as wetlands. The Supreme Court overturned the lower court's ruling that the Idaho couple had to wait for a court review at the option of the EPA before challenging the order. The opinion reads:
The APA's presumption of judicial review is a repudiation of the principle that efficiency of regulation conquers all. And there is no reason to think that the Clean Water Act was uniquely designed to enable the strong-arming of opportunity for judicial revieweven judicial review of the question whether the regulated party is within the EPA's jurisdiction. Compliance orders will remain an effective means of securing prompt voluntary compliance in those many cases where there is no substantial basis to question their validity.The court did not indicate whether the plaintiffs could win their case against the EPA, but merely ruled that they had the right to sue.
The Sacketts own land near Priest Lake, Idaho, on which they intended to build a house. After purchasing the property and obtaining local permits, they began to grade the land for construction of a house. They received an EPA Administrative Compliance Order that said the grading of the land was in violation of the CWA and imposed harsh civil penalties for non-compliance. The Sacketts disagree that their property is a wetland under the meaning of the CWA. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had upheld [opinion, PDF] the dismissal of their suit.