Thursday, April 12, 2012
If freedom isn’t vigorously defended, it will be lost
Some readers may recall a series of articles I wrote four years ago about the mother of a small toddler who was jailed by the EPA for wetlands violations.
The story was beyond belief. The mother, Robbie Wriggley, was a former schoolteacher, nurse and local high school booster. She was selling lots in her father’s real estate business when she got caught in the EPA’s crosshairs.
The EPA had determined that the land she was selling, called Big Hill, was wetlands. Big Hill is located at the highest point of a 30-square mile area, 20 miles north of Pascagoula. The nearest place a canoe could be floated on water is three miles away. All the land drains. Big Hill is covered with pine trees. Pine trees do not grow in consistently saturated soil.
Robbie and her father contested the EPA in the local courts and were winning. Their attorney was Jimmy Palmer, who had recently been head of the Mississippi Department of Natural Resources and later became head of the entire Southeast office of the EPA. Palmer told them they would win their case.
Outraged that a citizen would fight for their rights, the EPA upped the ante and filed criminal charges against Robbie, her father and their engineer. All three ended up in federal prison in what can only be called a kangaroo court.
It was the greatest corruption of our government I have ever witnessed in my nearly 40 years as a journalist.
Dr. Arville Touchet of Louisiana is one of three soil experts who served on a panel that developed the wetlands criteria more than 20 years ago for a consortium of federal agencies including the corps, the EPA, the Soil Conservation Service and the U.S. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Robbie’s father, at the recommendation of the feds, hired Touchet to help him comply with wetlands regulations. Here’s what he told me about the case:
“The federal suit was based on an assumption that was never proven. It was a kangaroo court . . . They had the audacity to change some of the lines without my permission. They called land wet that was not wet. It was an insult to me as a scientist. You should prove hydrology in the field if you’re going to send someone to jail.
“We had hard facts on that. And those people went to jail. It’s incredible. I can’t believe this is America. I dearly love my country but I fear we are losing the republic.”
Robbie was released from prison after former Gov. Haley Barbour and other top state officials sent letters to the feds on her behalf.
Her father and the engineer remain in jail, probably for the rest of their lives. Neither man had been in any prior trouble with the law.
The case illustrated how the EPA had become an unaccountable federal bureaucracy - just what our Founding Fathers feared most.
The Clean Water Act gives the federal government power over only “jurisdictional wetlands.” These are wetlands that are connected to navigable waters.
But since every drop of rain eventually ends up somewhere, where do you draw the line?
Since the passage of the Clean Water Act 25 years ago, the corps and EPA have increasingly broadened the definition of what constitutes “wetlands.” Your land is wetlands if the EPA says it is.
This is a problem for many Mississippi landowners. It costs an average of $30,000 to get a federal wetlands permit, and failure to do so could put you in prison.
Filling a ditch on your farm could send you to prison. There are plenty of American citizens with no prior record of illegal activity sitting in jail because of wetlands violations.
The 2006 Rapano decision is the law of the land regarding the EPA and wetlands. The U.S. Supreme Court judges issued five separate opinions in that one case: one plurality, two concurring opinions and two dissenting opinions. This complete legal chaos has allowed the EPA to continue to terrorize landowners.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court finally made a baby step toward ending this insane terror in a unanimous decision allowing citizens to challenge the EPA under the Administrative Procedures Act.
I’ll add this: The tyranny of the EPA shows the delicacy of freedom and liberty. Congress and the courts, bogged down in bureaucracy, are slow to reform. If freedom is not vigorously defended, it will be lost.
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