Last week, property-rights advocates were ecstatic with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Sackett v EPA that citizens subject to EPA Clean Water Act “compliance orders” can have their day in court.
Before, EPA had interpreted its power in a Kafkaesque fashion, whereby the Agency could levy fines for alleged Clean Water Act violations without any recourse for the accused. (My colleague Hans Bader wrote an excellent blog on the case here).
Because that high profile case captured all the attention, it was little noticed last Friday when property rights advocates won a similarly consequential victory. That afternoon, United States District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that EPA overstepped its authority when it vetoed a Clean Water Act permit that had already been issued to the Mingo Logan Coal Company, a subsidiary of Arch Coal, for a mountaintop removal mining project in Logan County, West Virginia. The profound matter at hand was whether EPA could revoke a Clean Water Act permit, after it became the possession of the applicant. Had EPA carried the day, permit (i.e., property) owners nationwide would be subject to the cessation of business, depending on EPA’s whims.