Justices Weigh Couple's Land Dispute with the EPA

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U.S. SUPREME COURT -- Mike and Chantell Sackett were only trying to build their three bedroom home overlooking Priest Lake, Idaho, when the Environmental Protection Agency turned their dream into a nightmare.

Now, the Sacketts are fighting before the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent their financial demise.

In May 2007, the EPA ordered the couple to stop construction on their lot, alleging it was a protected wetland.

The agency then hit the Sacketts with a massive $37,500 per day fine until the land was restored, fenced off and left unaltered for three years.

"Can you imagine that? Going to bed every night with that on your mind? By now, we're up over $40 million in fines. It's literally terrifying," Mike Sackett said.

The Sacketts -- who are small business owners -- now face the very real possibility of financial ruin.

After attempting to fight the EPA, the couple found that federal rules prevented them from taking the agency to court.

"The government's here to serve us. And they're not. They're coming into people's lives, turning them upside down, and making it to where you can't fight back," Mike explained.

As a result, the couple joined with the non-profit Pacific Legal Foundation to fight for one of the most fundamental rights in America: property rights.

"EPA, like any federal agency, is not a law unto itself. Even the EPA must abide by the constitutional protections for private property rights that our founders enshrined, and people like the Sacketts can't have their dream home and their dreams to build that home trampled upon by an agency run wild," said Damien Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Justices began hearing the Sacketts' case Monday, and appeared sympathetic to the couple's plight.

The EPA argued that its decision to fine the Sacketts should be free of judicial review.

"They (the justices) were as exasperated by that assertion as we have been. So to that extent, it was gratifying," Schiff said.

"I was very hopeful when you heard some of the questions that were common sense questions to ask. I was elated," Chantell added.

In question is whether a federal group like the EPA has the power to outweigh a citizen's property rights.

Schiff says the Sacketts are just the latest victims of government regulatory abuse.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.