Sen. Rand Paul holds hearing on government assault on private property [The Arena]

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Kentucky Senator Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul hosted a roundtable discussion yesterday, "PROPERTY WRONGS: A Discussion With the Victims of the U.S. Government's Assault on Private Property," to bring to light a few of many instances of overreach by the U.S. government, Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, and others.  He was joined in the Kennedy Caucus Room  of the Russell Senate Office Building by members of both the House and Senate, including Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Reps. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.), to deliver questions and comments to the attending witnesses.

Sen. Paul indicated that he plans to introduce legislation in the coming days addressing the issues brought forth in today's hearing.

Rand Paul 1113b.jpgWitnesses included Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Gibson Guitars; Mike and Chantell Sackett of Idaho, whose current battle with the EPA is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court this winter; Victoria Pozsgai-Khoury of Pennsylvania, who was representing her father's continuing battle with EPA over erroneous wetland regulations; Peter Nimrod, chief engineer of the Mississippi Levee Board, currently suing EPA to allow for a pumping station in the Mississippi Delta region; and John and Judy Dollarhite of Missouri, rabbit breeders whose side business was shut down and fined exorbitantly by the USDA.

Below is the text of Sen. Paul's opening remarks.

When I was elected last year, I proclaimed that I had a message, a message that we've come to take our government back. Since then, many have asked, "You've come to take back your government, but from whom?" The answer is quite simple, we wish to take our government back from the unelected bureaucrats who are trampling our rights and invading our businesses. In fact, the Declaration of Independence sums up our frustration well when our founders complained of the King, "He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance." At every turn businessmen and women are harassed by their government. Be it OSHA, the IRS, or the EPA. Property owners are beleaguered by the Army Corps of Engineers taking their property through absurd interpretations of what constitutes a wetland. A woman and her father in Mississippi were sentenced to 10 years in prison for putting dirt on a low area of a residential development. A man in Michigan was given three years in prison for moving dirt on his own land because the government decreed it a wetland. 32 Federal agencies are now armed. The Department of Agriculture now has SWAT teams that have been involved with raiding organic food stores that sell raw milk and private citizens selling bunnies have been tormented with outrageous fines. The Fish and Wildlife Department also has armed agents. They have swooped in to harass and shut down American businesses that violate foreign laws. That's right: We now have armed agents enforcing foreign laws on American soil. It is a disgrace and must end. Today, we've gathered together folks who have been abused by their government. Government has not only harassed and aggravated these folks but actually put some of them in jail. Hopefully, after hearing these tragic stories, we can agree to take our government back from the unelected bureaucrats and return lawmaking to the halls of Congress. Today you will hear stories that will chill you to the marrow. One man escaped from Communism in Hungary only to be thrown into jail in America when he cleaned up an illegal dump on land the government called wetland. A proud American owned business, an icon in the guitar industry is invaded by armed agents and threatened with violating foreign laws. Even Local government has come to fear the EPA. We will hear how the EPA is obstructing flood control work by the Mississippi Levee Board. In my state alone, the EPA is hampering the building of sewage treatment plants and river walks. My biggest surprise as we've investigated government abuse is that agencies, like the EPA, obstruct other government projects. It isn't just property owners who fear the EPA. It isn't just industry that despises the EPA. Even local government sees the regulatory overreach that hampers local government projects. So, I do have a message to bureaucrats high and low: This is America and the Constitution grants law-making to Congress and Congress alone. Yes, we've come to take our government back. We've come to seek justice for businesses and property owners. And above all else we've come to proclaim that we are a nation of laws not a nation of bureaucratic edicts. I defy anyone to listen to the following testimony and not be angered and dismayed at what we've let government become. So, let us hear from those who have suffered at the hands of their government.

 

Sen. Rand Paul On America's Newsroom - 10/13/11

 

The following summarizes some of yesterday’s testimony:

Mike and Chantell Sackett.  In 2005, Mike and Chantell Sackett of Idaho bought a plot of land with the plans of building a home in a neighborhood where other houses have stood for years. Before beginning work, Chantell made sure to consult with an Army Corps of Engineers official who informed her that they did not need a federal permit. Four years ago they filled the property with dirt and rock preparing to begin construction. epa.jpgThree federal officials showed up and demanded they halt construction claiming the lot was a wetland, protected under the Clean Water Act. The EPA demanded the property to be returned to its original state, meaning hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove the fill material and replanting the vegetation. The Sacketts faced $32,500 in daily fines if they did not comply and criminal liability if they continued construction. Not to mention, the EPA required they fence the property off and submit annual reports on the property's condition. The Sacketts appealed to the Supreme Court and will be heard this winter in the case of Sackett v. EPA.

Victoria Khoury (Daughter of John Pozsgai).  In 1986, John Pozsgai of Bucks County, Pa., bought an illegal dump across the street from his house. The dump contained a storm water drainage system and storm water drainage ditch that dated back to 1936. The dump was filled with tires, scrap metal, and other objects. He cleaned up the dump with plans to build a 12,500-square-foot building that would expand his business and enhance his community. Within months of acquiring the property, John was contacted by the Army Corps of Engineers informing him of the presence of wetlands. However, he did not fully understand these notices and his lawyer was of no help (the lawyer was later reprimanded for drunkenness in court). In 1987, the Army Corps civilly sued John to restore the property to its previous condition. When John was told by the Army Corps he needed a permit to build his truck repair shop, he obtained a water quality permit from Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Resources, even though the Department of Environmental Resources informed him that the property was not on the National Wetlands Inventory. The Army Corps referred the case to the EPA, who then referred it to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. During this process, the Army Corps was still asking for more information to process John's permit. John was then arrested and his home was searched for weapons by two EPA officers. John was sentenced to three years in prison and a $202,000 fine for violating the Clean Water Act. At the time Mr. Pozsgai was sentenced, he was the 'worst environmental violator' in the history of the United States.

Peter Nimrod, Chief Engineer of the Mississippi Levee Board.  The EPA stopped a vital flood control project in the Mississippi Delta, the Yazoo Backwater Project, claiming it would harm wetlands, leaving the residents of the South Delta the only people in the Mississippi River watershed without effective flood control in place. Under the Clean Water Act (Section 404(r)) the EPA is prohibited from vetoing any project approved by Congress prior to Dec. 27, 1977, when the environmental impacts of the project were made known to Congress before construction began. Such is the case with the proposed pumping station that the EPA is not allowing in the Yazoo Backwater Project. The Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners is suing the EPA.

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Jim Boyd.  Jim Boyd and his family have owned Smith Family Farm in the Chesapeake area of Virginia for more than two decades, but EPA is now trying to claim that it, not the Boyds, controls the property - on the grounds that it is "wetlands." However, there is no hydrological connection to navigable water. The EPA is violating the Supreme Court's wetlands definitions in the landmark case of Rapanos v. EPA.

Mayor Tom Moodie.  Grand Rivers, a small Kentucky town of 350, has been battling the EPA, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and archeological groups for over two years as they try to build a new, and badly needed, sewer treatment facility. They are demanding that Grand Rivers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on impact studies of mussels and archeology before the new plant is built. The city does not have the money for these studies. Also, a few times a year the current plant has to be shut down, forcing them to re-route sewage into the river. The new site for the facility is about half-mile from the current site.

John and Judy Dollarhite.  John and Judy Dollarhite of Nixa, Mo., have been sentenced a $90,643 fine from USDA for a "paperwork violation" after the family sold some rabbits to a local pet store. This violation in the Animal Welfare Act was intended to prevent the abuse of animals. Over the past few years the Dollarhites have raised and sold a few hundred rabbits as a part-time job to teach their son responsibility. Local experts praised the Dollarhites for the pristine condition they kept the rabbits in on their three-acre lot where their home sits.

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Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions).

 

About Thomas McAdam
At various times I have been a student, a soldier, a college Political Science teacher, a political campaign treasurer, and legal adviser to Louisville's Police Department and Board of Aldermen. I now practice law and share my political opinions with anyone who will listen.
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