John Hinderaker writes:
One of the lesser-noted decisions that the Supreme Court handed down in its June term was Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District. Koontz applied for a permit to develop a portion of a small parcel of land that he owned in Florida, and offered a remediation plan to offset the effect of the development on wetlands on his property. The Water Management District rejected Koontz’s plan and said it would approve his permit only if he either reduced the size of his development, or else paid contractors to make improvements to wetlands owned by the District some miles away from his property. Koontz thought that the conditions demanded by the state were excessive, and sued. The Court ruled in his favor, 5-4, with the majority opinion written by Justice Alito…
But, as Justice Alito recognized in the Koontz decision, there is a real danger that the EPA can extort compliance with such illegal demands from parties like refinery owners, based on the explicit or implicit threat to take adverse action on permit applications. Under Koontz, that threat should be be neutralized, at least in theory. Making collateral demands on companies subject to EPA regulation that “lack an essential nexus and rough proportionality” to the companies’ environmental impacts is impermissible.
Of course, during the five years of the Obama administration, we have seen repeatedly that the raw exercise of power does not necessarily depend on legal right. But one hopes that next time the EPA tries to pressure a regulated company into incurring extra-legal expenses that have no nexus to the company’s own actions, the company will tell the EPA to pound sand, and cite Koontz as authority.