EPA harasses Americans

Wage garnishment prior to judicial review is a step too far

By Robert Gordon

Just in time for the Fourth of July, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has added a new regulatory weapon to its arsenal.

johnsonpondIn a Federal Register notice on July 2 titled “Administrative Wage Garnishment,” the EPA stated that by the authority of the Debt Collection Improvement Act (DCIA ) of 1996 it issued a proposed rule that “will allow the EPA to garnish non-Federal wages to collect delinquent non-tax debts owed the United States without first obtaining a court order.” According to the Treasury Department, under DCIA, such debts include “unpaid loans, overpayments or duplicate payments made to federal salary or benefit payment recipients, misused grant funds, and fines, penalties or fees assessed by federal agencies.”

The EPA explains that, “Prior to the enactment of the DCIA, Federal agencies were required to obtain a court judgment before garnishing non-Federal wages. Section 31001(o) of the DCIA preempts State laws that prohibit wage garnishment or otherwise govern wage garnishment procedures.” It’s worth repeating just part of the list of debts for which wages may be garnished under the DCIA: “fines, penalties or fees assessed by federal agencies.”The EPA rule also states that, “we view this as a noncontroversial action and anticipate no adverse comment.” Consequently, the rule continues, “This direct final rule is effective September 2, 2014, without further notice unless EPA receives adverse comments by August 1, 2014.”

While one may not be too troubled about collection of unpaid loans or misused grants funds for example, that’s not all there is to consider with this regulation. People like Andy Johnson, a local welder in Uinta County, Wyoming, might want to sit up and take note. The EPA issued an administrative order demanding that he destroy a pond he painstakingly built on his own property or face serious repercussions. The EPA has threatened Johnson with fines in the amount of $75,000 per day for violating the Clean Water Act.

The pond’s waters are not polluted and the pond is much appreciated by wildlife, given the arid nature of Uinta County. Johnson even sought regulatory approval from the state for his private effort to improve the environment. He did not however get a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and consequently finds himself under the EPA’s thumb. Wyoming Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso joined with Louisiana Senator David Vitter to issue a letter to the agency stating that the “EPA appears more interested in intimidating and bankrupting Mr. Johnson than it does in working cooperatively with him.”

Johnson is not alone in suffering this kind of bullying at the hands of the EPA. Chantell and Michael Sackett of Idaho were sackettssimilarly threatened by the agency with fines of $75,000 per day for seeking to build a home on a small lot situated between two other lots that already had homes, an action the EPA claimed the couple could not even challenge. The Sacketts challenged it anyway, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where they won a unanimous verdict.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the court’s decision stating that, “In a nation that values due process, not to mention private property, such treatment is unthinkable.” Scalia went on that “there is no reason to think that the Clean Water Act was uniquely designed to enable the strong-arming of regulated parties into ‘voluntary compliance’ without the opportunity for judicial review—even judicial review of the question whether the regulated party is within the EPA’s jurisdiction.”

While the Supreme Court may have found that the Sacketts and, consequently, folks like Johnson, do have some recourse to challenge administrative compliance orders from the EPA, those who fall into the agency’s sights may now face a new and crushing hurdle: wage garnishment. Just how many people could endure challenging the EPA’s regulatory actions—no matter how indefensible—if they faced fines that the agency could garnish from their wages? How many can be coerced into “voluntary compliance”?

FLAGOn July 4 we celebrated our independence. One of the many grievances in the Declaration of Independence—the reasons we listed to explain why we choose to break away and declare ourselves free—was that the king had “erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” Seems familiar and it is clear that the current Administration is pushing adoption of these regulations, as many federal agencies have issued similar rules. None, however, matches the EPA’s record of heavy-handedness.

The EPA said that if it receives no adverse comments by August 1, the direct final rule will go into effect. Well, the folks at the EPA already have at least one—in comments submitted on July 3, The Heritage Foundation urged the EPA to “withdraw the direct final rule.” We doubt that we’ll be the only ones.

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Robert Gordon is a  senior advisor for strategic outreach at the Heritage Foundation; previously, he was the founder and director of the National Wilderness Institute.  He also served two terms as a member of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Board of Conservation and Recreation.

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CFACT defends the environment and human welfare through facts, news, and analysis.

  • Grammy Tammy

    Is there a link, e-mail, address, phone number or process by which ordinary tax payer can file a complaint about this FEDERAL OVER REACH.

  • Melissa Kellison

    Ours is the right to use our resources first to fight and defend; shame on any state that doesn’t stand up for it’s citizens and refuse to comply with unconstitutional wage garnishment without a court order!

  • notanobamaliar

    This is a clear violation of due process of law. Allowing any agency to seize property, assets or monies on the fly without going through the courts or legal system is a subversion of the Constitution and the rule of law by a domestic enemy. The citizens must reject and strongly oppose this usurpation of power worthy only of a dictatorship. This action is far more grievous than anything attempted by King George 3rd over 200 years ago against the Americans. Fascism must not be tolerated in any fashion or the republic will cease to exist as we have known it. Demand your congressional rep take action to shut this agency down forever.

  • judi

    This is part of Agenda 21, United Nations- America became part of this thru President George Bush senior in 1992 when he signed the treaty, It’s intent is to move masses of people away from suburbs into dense housing. Read up !! Obama is into & supports this agenda.

  • skipfoss

    EPA is just another tool for Agendia 21 to use for a UN take over of the US most of those in charge of this illegal dept are left wing nuts from all of the so called clubs that want to protect the earth by deleting the people

  • Sam

    When are you people going to realize the Government is hell bent on taking away your freedoms? Everyone thinks “it wont happen here” What do you think Germans were saying after Hitler had been in power for a few years? Wake up America the EPA is only one federal agency that can legally without due process take your personal property. Here is another example the government is literally after all of us. The US federal prison system has more people incarcerated than all developed countries combined. Most federal prisons are run by for profit companies so there is no motivation to release or rehabilitate prisoners.

    When are you going to stand up and stop allowing this? I am only one man. I am willing to march on DC, march on the EPA headquarters, where ever I have to go. I cant do it alone. We need to mass together and be prepared to be arrested, beaten by the thug police who are also brainwashed and conducting business for the government. Tell me why to rural police departments need armored personnel carriers? I live in a small city of about 21,000 and our police department has an armored former military vehicle. WHY?? This should be a huge red flag!!

    We are being taken over from within people! Wake up! We had better start organizing and protesting in a big way. Once the government takes our weapons and ammunition its too late.

    The IRS can seize your property, your bank accounts, and put you in jail if you refuse to pay taxes.

    Micheal Brown the “Cigarette Man” recently murdered by New York Police on the street in broad daylight on video was trying to sell loose cigarettes to make a little money. He had many health issues and could not work much. This is how crazy things are in New York. A city so thirsty for tax revenue they send police out everyday to enforce cigarette tax laws while real and serious crimes go unchecked at times.

    Regardless of weather or not this man was breaking the law in a very minor way I might add the police have no right to do what they did period! The situation was escalated on purpose by the tax enforcer police. They could have easily tased him and problem solved but these thugs would rather get into a physical confrontation because they like it. Its a power trip for most cops they get off on beating people up.

    How many law enforcement agencies do we need?

    FBI, ATF, DEA, DHS, U.S. MARSHALS, U.S. FISH AND GAME, EPA, IRS, STATE POLICE, CITY POLICE, COUNTY SHERIFFS, CID, FIRE MARSHAL, GAME WARDEN, U.S. PARK POLICE

    THINK ABOUT IT!!!