Supreme Court Opens District Courts to Challenges of Clean Water Act Compliance Orders


The United States Supreme Court issued a decision yesterday in the case Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency. The Sackett case is an important development for property owners because the Court held that a compliance order issued under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq., can be challenged in district court.

A compliance order is an administrative order issued by the EPA when the agency finds, based on any information available, that a person is in violation of the Clean Water Act or a permit issued under the Act. Prior to the Sackett decision, most district and circuit courts had found that a compliance order issued under the Clean Water Act was not subject to judicial review unless and until the EPA brought an enforcement action against the recipient in district court. The property owner was left with the untenable choice of either complying with the order at great cost or ignoring the order and risking enhanced penalties.

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