On May 25, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court sent shockwaves through the nation by stripping the ability of the EPA to override state control of non-navigable waters by designating wetlands, sub-surface flows, and other small waterways such as overflows as protected. This victory, the culmination of a twelve-year battle by Michael and Chantell Sackett of Priest Lake, Idaho, returns possession of private lands on which the Sacketts were building a home.
The ruling clarifies ambiguous language in the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA), preventing the EPA from controlling private lands simply because water may exist, a move driven by President Obama’s extremist EPA. In 2007, the Sacketts began building a home on their 0.63-acre subdivision plot near northern Idaho’s idyllic Priest Lake. However, despite obtaining the proper permits, the EPA forced the Sacketts to cease construction under threat of a $10K-a-day penalty.
Lower courts blocked their attempts to sue the EPA, but in 2012, they won the right to seek redress. However, their case languished in the courts until 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. A year later, they emerged victorious. The irony is that their land was dry. The EPA claimed that despite being detached from Priest Lake, it was a “potential” wetland and subject to EPA jurisdiction.
May’s SCOTUS ruling clarifies the language of the Act, detaching smaller waterways, wetlands, and other “potential” wetlands from the adjacent large bodies of water, reducing the EPA’s stranglehold on private property. The long-overdue relief to farmers, ranchers, and other landowners across the nation also opens the proverbial floodgate to legal action by previously injured landowners.
The State of Arizona seized on the ruling to review private and public water rights, given that government entities own 87% of Arizona’s total land area. The Joint Legislative Committee on Water Security, jointly chaired by State Senator Sine Kerr (R-25) and Representative Gail Griffin (R-19), and consisting of 6 bicameral members of both parties, heard the testimony. Speakers included Sackett attorney Charles Yates of the Pacific Legal Foundation, and southern Arizona constituent Jim Chilton, regarding experiences under the CWA, “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS), and private property rights.
In a press release dated 9/22/23, Representative Griffin, who also chairs the House Natural Resources, Energy & Water Committee, stated, “The Waters of the United States has been one of the most complicated and litigated federal regulations in U.S. history. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Sackett v. EPA represents a major win for state control over land and water use and will help to restore private property rights for ordinary people across Arizona, especially in rural parts of the state.”
She added, “Our country was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There must be a balance between environmental overreach and local economic needs. The Sackett decision helps to restore this balance for the states and demonstrates the increasing encroachment of the federal government when proper checks aren’t put in place. Even at the state and local levels, radical environmental groups and others are trying to control land to impact private property rights and water.”230922GRIFFINPRIVATELANDMAP
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