Supreme court decision questions EPA wetland restrictions

Jim Wilcox, mayor of The Dalles, maintains the ruling will only help those who have enough money to fight EPA.

Jim Wilcox, mayor of The Dalles, maintains the ruling will only help those who have enough money to fight EPA.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision could open the doors for Oregon landowners and property developers to battle government land-use decisions.

The court unanimously ruled March 21 that the Environmental Protection Agency can face judicial challenges on certain land-use decisions. The court ruled in favor of Idaho property owners who faced fines of up to $32,500 a day. The landowners had filled in parts of their property that EPA said was protected by wetlands rules.

Supreme Court justices overturned several lower court decisions ruling that EPA’s compliance order, on specific wetlands issues, aren’t subject to judicial review.

While the decision won’t necessarily bring a cascade of new lawsuits, it could comfort property owners who want to develop their land.

“Private property owners now have the right to appeal a decision by a government regulator,” said Paul Agrimis, vice president and a wetland scientist with Portland-based environmental consulting firm Vigil-Agrimis Inc. “If people feel there’s a bad decision, they can have it revisited by the courts.”

The National Federation of Independent Business claimed a big victory in the ruling. The group, which represents 7,500 Oregon businesses, said that hundreds of thousands of small business owners nationwide rely on their land-use rights to operate their companies.

Many have gotten on EPA’s bad side because of property issues, said Jan Meekcoms, Oregon’s NFIB director.

“A door is now opened that was closed because of the EPA’s strong-arming tactics,” said Meekcoms, whose national chapter filed an amicus brief in the case. “It’s nice to have a win against the tremendous onslaught of regulation.”

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