The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that property owners have a right to prompt review by a judge of an important tool used by the Environmental Protection Agency to address water pollution.
The court sided with an Idaho couple who object to an EPA order that blocked construction of their new home near a scenic lake and threatened fines of more than $30,000 a day.
Wednesday's decision is a victory for Mike and Chantell Sackett, whose property near Priest Lake has sat undisturbed since the EPA ordered a halt in work in 2007. The agency said part of the property was a wetlands that could not disturbed without a permit.
In an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court rejected EPA's argument that allowing property owners quick access to courts to contest orders like the one issued to the Sacketts would compromise the agency's ability to deal with water pollution.
"Compliance orders will remain an effective means of securing prompt voluntary compliance in those many cases where there is no substantial basis to question their validity," Scalia said.
In this case, the couple contested the determination that their small lot contained wetlands that are regulated by the Clean Water Act, and they complained there was no reasonable way to challenge the order without risking fines that can mount quickly.