SCOTUS hands down a property rights victory

The Environmental Protection Agency suffered a major blow from the Supreme Court to its high-handedness in seizing control of land belonging to private owners. Robert Barnes reports in the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it easier for landowners to challenge the decision of federal regulators that the use of property is restricted by the Clean Water Act.

The justices ruled unanimously that property owners could file suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the agency’s determination that their land contains “waters of the United States” covered by the Clean Water Act, which provides criminal and civil liabilities for violations.

The government contended that such suits could be brought only after the landowner filed for a permit and was dissatisfied with the result. Alternatively, the government said, the conflict could be resolved if the owner proceeded without a permit and faced sanctions.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said neither alternative was acceptable. Proceeding without a permit opens owners to penalties of up to $37,500 a day if they are determined to have violated the act.

Individuals and companies “need not assume such risks while waiting for [the Environmental Protection Agency] to drop the hammer in order to have their day in court,” Roberts wrote.

And applying for a permit requires an “arduous, expensive and long” process that is different from challenging whether the land was properly designated, Roberts wrote.

While this is a process decision, it is highly significant, as is the fact that it was unanimous. Until this decision, the EPA was able to grab control over the use of private lands, and subject owners to an expensive process to fight its arbitrary decisions.

I’d call this a slam-dunk victory for property rights. Kudos to the Pacific Legal Foundation, champions of property rights, which won this case. 

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