Ron Paul: Protect the Environment by Respecting Property Rights

by Ron Paul

Last week the Supreme Court heard arguments in Sackett v. EPA, a case of blatant federal agency overreach and abuse of private property rights. Without any proof or reason, and no chance for appeal, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that a small single home lot was a “protected wetland.” The owners, Mike and Chantell Sackett, were ordered to halt construction already underway, to remove all of the work already done, and plant trees and shrubs consistent with a wetlands environment. After making these costly changes, the Sackets then would have to wait several years for the EPA to decide if they would be allowed the use of their own property. Refusal to comply with these outrageous and arbitrary commandments would result in daily fines greater than the value of the property!

Outraged, the Sacketts sought relief through the courts, but court after court determined that they had no standing. The actions of the EPA were not subject to judicial review until a mountain of fees had already been assessed. This is just another example not only of how federal agencies wield enormous power over average citizens, but also how little practical protection our court system provides when such citizens are harmed by those agencies.

Constitutionally, when the government determines private property is needed for public use, it is taken through eminent domain. In that process the owner is due fair market value in compensation for any condemned property. The EPA not only refuses to compensate the Sacketts for effectively taking their land, they are assessing– or threatening to assess– ruinous penalties that greatly exceed the value of the land. They arrogantly claim the power to determine how certain property owners can use their land, while assessing fines or ordering actions that must be undertaken at the property owner’s expense. All of this is done at the administrative level, with no judicial oversight. In short, the EPA does not believe the Constitution applies to them.

A decision on this case is expected this summer. My fervent hope is that the Supreme Court will thwart this rogue agency and stand up for property rights and the right of people to have their day in court when they find themselves unwittingly accosted by the EPA.

My own district in Texas is no stranger to these issues. Again, with no evidence to support their decision, the EPA arbitrarily determined Matagorda County to be an “Ozone Nonattainment Region”, meaning the air quality is substandard. In fact, the population in this county has been decreasing and the small amount of emissions reported from Matagorda County has actually declined in recent years. The Texas agency charged with environmental protection disagrees with the EPA. Yet Matagorda County, like the Sacketts, finds itself at the mercy of the EPA. New business and construction will be stymied until the Washington masters are satisfied.

Unless Congress acts, EPA bureaucrats will continue to inflict potentially devastating economic consequences on communities like Matagorda County and people like the Sacketts. Destroying the economy is no way to save the environment. A thriving economy and a fair judicial system that respects property rights and the Constitution provide the best protection of the environment.


  • Laurie Walker

    I like Ron Paul’s ideas on every issue but this one. I can’t sort out how it could be possible to just “sue” the coal companies because my property is somehow at risk? What if my child develops cancer because of some chemical spill near my home last year? How is the average citizen supposed to fight BP in court? It’s not likely to be conducive to “liberty” or the pursuit of happiness, that’s for sure… Many people are not “property owners”, so then what? they have no right to breath healthy air or eat healthy food, or drink clean water? It’s too simplistic, and ineffective. And “owning” endangered species will protect them? There again, this makes no sense at all, because many species migrate, and many could be poached illegally on someone else’s private property. Poaching is illegal, so because the Rhinoceros is on someone’s private property, it’s somehow not going to get poached? Come on. Too simplistic. This issue never gets discussed in any real way, and that’s why I am sorry but I cannot place my faith in a vote for Ron Paul. It would be disastrous. He is not listening to science, and he doesn’t acknowledge that we are all stakeholders in “the commons”, so I can’t take him seriously on these fronts. He fails to put individual rights over those of big corporations…

  • Jeff Hall

    I have no ax to grind, and I agree that government agencies routinely overstep their bounds. However, in attempting to maintain a quickly declining ecosystem that benefits most, if not all, in the community they have a valid argument to make. For instance, if I owned 20 acres of swampland that ajoined my property, I could merely threaten to build on it, thus forcing the community at large to purchase it to prevent that. I’d end up getting a chunk of cash for land that didn’t change, when I’d never intended to build anything. That would be increasing government spending and cheating the community. It would be immoral, but I can see those whose morality is suspect at best taking advantage of that.

  • Kenneth

    Great point. It’s also interesting to note that the EPA will go out of it’s way to claim personal property for the sake of environmental preservation, however they have failed us in many ways on far more serious matters. That time and effort could have been used for a better purpose, such as investigating improper waste disposal or other major concerns.