If there was ever a bully that deserved detention, it is the bureaucrats that run unchecked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. One only has to listen to the heartbreaking accounts of ordinary, innocent American citizens who have been treated like criminals by this rogue agency to get a sense of a Goliath crushing David into the ground. Senator Rand Paul’s roundtable forum, “Property Wrongs: A Discussion with Victims of the U.S. Government’s Assault on Private Property,” held on October 12, 2011, gave folks who have been bullied by government agencies the chance to share their disheartening realities with the public.
The discussion began with Sen. Paul addressing the problems we face today: keeping up with the myriad regulations imposed upon the individual by unelected, unaccountable, faceless bureaucrats. Instead of the passage of laws by Congress, where public debate and influence can be exercised, agencies like the EPA rule by administrative fiat, which is leading to exorbitant penalties that do not fit the “crime.” The agencies responsible for this over-criminalization of laws have taken a toll on property owners and their faith in the government as the protector of their rights.
The once lovely face of Lady Liberty now wears the quintessential looks of the mean kid on the playground: class bully. The saying “Because I said so”, comes to mind. Rand Paul is working on a bill targeted at putting bureaucracy bullies in a well-deserved time-out. The stories I will share are of those who have been bullied specifically by the EPA’s ever-expansive interpretation of its own authority under the Clean Water Act.
Chantelle and Mike Sackett, a couple from Idaho, spoke of the plot of land they purchased in 2005, on which they hoped to build a modest 3-bedroom home. Prior to starting construction, they conferred with an Army Corp of Engineers official that told them a federal permit was unnecessary. With this peace of mind, the Sacketts filled their plot with rock and dirt to begin the construction starting four years ago. To their surprise, they then were visited by three agents from the EPA, who demanded that construction be halted because the land was a “wetland,” and therefore subject to protection under the CWA. They were told restore the land to its former state, which would cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars for the removal of the fill and the replanting of vegetation.
“Bully. That’s what the EPA does,” was the first phrase Chantelle uttered to the public. “They use intimidation. And us, as American people, are fed up.” The EPA threatened to impose daily fines of $32,500 if the Sacketts refused to comply, mandated they fence in the property, submit yearly reports on the property’s condition, and install wetland plant life that was not even native to the site. The Sacketts are now under the threat of $40 million in fines and await their chance to confront the EPA bullies in the Supreme Court this winter.
Victoria Khoury, daughter of John Pozgai, told of her family’s history of property rights abuse. Her parents, who live in Bucks Country, Pennsylvania, were freedom fighters from Hungary. They came to America and started a truck-repair garage. In 1986, with the intention of expanding his self-made business, John purchased an unofficial dump where his community had disposed of their scrap metal, old tires, and other junk. With his own time and money, John cleaned up the 30-year eyesore and planned to build a 12,500-square-foot building. John was contacted within months of buying the property by the Army Corps, who stated that wetlands were present on his land, and in 1987, the Army Corps civilly sued John to restore the property to its former condition… a condition of abundant waste.
John obtained a water quality permit from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Resources, even though the Department of Environmental Resources revealed that John’s land was not even on the National Wetlands Inventory. The case was referred to the EPA, who then brought it to the Department of Justice. Throughout this hair-pulling process, the Army Corps was still after more information on John’s permit. John was then arrested and his house was raided in search of weapons by two EPA officers; no weapons we found. His wife said it reminded her of the Soviet soldiers taking her family to never be seen again. John was sentenced to 3 years in prison and charged a maximum fee of $202,000, which holds to be the most serious punishment ever given to an “environmental violator” in the history of the United States. Khoury lamented the fact that her father, now 79 and on his deathbed, was treated more harshly than anyone involved in the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Rand Paul’s proposed new bill is aimed at stopping the vast amount of tyrannies committed on the whim of federal bureaucracies like the EPA. The bill will work to redefine and hone the broadness of the term “wetland” in hopes to stop its exploitation.