Supreme Court justices criticize EPA's dealings with homeowners

By Jesse J. Holland

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 10 2012 12:04 a.m. MST

In this May 3, 2011 file photo, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington.

Alex Brandon, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — Several members of the Supreme Court criticized the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday for heavy-handed enforcement of rules affecting homeowners after the government told an Idaho couple they can't challenge an order declaring their future home site "protected wetlands."

Justice Antonin Scalia assailed the "high-handedness" of the environmental agency when dealing with private property, and Justice Samuel Alito described some of the EPA's actions as "outrageous," arguing that most people would say "this kind of thing can't happen in the United States."

The EPA said that Mike and Chantell Sackett illegally filled in most of their 0.63-acre lot with dirt and rocks in preparation for building a home. The agency said the property is a wetlands that cannot be disturbed without a permit. The Sacketts had none.

The couple, who attended the Supreme Court arguments, said they had no reason to suspect there were wetlands on their property. They paid $23,000 for their property in 2005 and decided two years later to build a three-bedroom home. Workers spent three days filling in just under a half-acre of land.

Three EPA officials showed up, said they believed the land was wetlands, asked for a permit and told the workers to stop. Six months later, the EPA sent the order that triggered the court case. The Sacketts wanted to challenge that order, but lower courts have said that they cannot.

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