(Reuters) – The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that landowners can sue to challenge a federal government compliance order under the clean water law, a decision that sides with corporate groups and puts new limits on a key Environmental Protection Agency power.
The justices unanimously rejected the government’s position that individuals or companies must first fail to comply with an EPA order and face potentially costly enforcement action before a court can review the case.
The opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia was a victory for an Idaho couple who challenged a 2007 EPA order that required them to restore a wetland they had filled with dirt and rock as they began to build a new vacation home near Priest Lake. They were also told to stop construction on the home.
The couple, Chantell and Michael Sackett, denied their property had ever contained a wetland and complained they were being forced to comply with an order without a court hearing.
Their appeal drew support from the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Home Builders and General Electric Co, a company that had made a similar challenge to the EPA compliance orders.
The Supreme Court’s ruling comes at a time when the EPA has faced fierce criticism from many Republicans in Congress who say it has issued the most ambitious clean air regulations in decades and has become heavy-handed in enforcement actions.
Scalia concluded the Sacketts may bring a civil lawsuit under the Administrative Procedures Act to challenge the EPA’s order.
He said that since the EPA’s decision was final and the couple faced potential large fines, they had no other adequate remedy but to bring a civil lawsuit.