Supreme Court hears N. Idaho family’s lawsuit in first day back

WASHINGTON D.C. — A North Idaho family’s 15-year battle with the EPA made its way to the Supreme Court Monday morning.

Justices heard arguments in a lawsuit involving the EPA, and its ability to enforce water pollution in certain areas.

The dispute began when Mike and Chantell Sackett purchased property 300 feet away from Priest Lake in 2004. Three years later, they began developing the land into their dream home, pouring sand and gravel as they began construction.

It wasn’t long before the EPA intervened, demanding the Sackett’s put a stop to their construction efforts and restore the land to its original state. The agency warned the family would face severe fines if they chose not to do so.

“Their home building plans remain on hold to this day,” said Damien Schiff, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, representing the Sacketts. “Because [the] EPA remains steadfast in their view that property contains navigable waters, subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act.”

The EPA stated that the land the Sacketts were building on is federally protected wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

The CWA is designed to protect pollutants from being discharged into “waters of the United States,” and has been criticized because of its unclear language. Those waters include any navigable bodies of water, along with wetlands that are adjacent, or next to that body of water.

That is where the Sackett’s property comes into question.

Their land lies just outside 36 acres of wetlands, separated by a road.

The EPA believes that should the Sacketts develop that land, pollutants would enter the water beneath their property and later merge with that of the wetlands.

“So it’s only by combining the water from the Sackett’s property with this large wetlands that [the EPA] comes to the conclusion that there’s a significant ecological effect on Priest Lake?” asked Justice Samuel Alito?”

“Yes, Justice Alito,” responded Schiff.

Justices heard and debated arguments around the definition of the word “adjacent,” which was used in the law to describe the wetlands protected in the CWA.

The primary question the justices are tasked with answering: do wetlands fall into the category of “waters of the United States?”

How they choose to answer this question has national implications when it comes to developing private land near water, along with how far the EPA’s authority reaches.

In a statement to 4 News Now, the EPA stated “The EPA and the Department of the Army remain committed to establishing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ that protects public health, the environment, and economic opportunity of downstream communities.”

The Supreme Court is not expected to issue a ruling until June of 2023.