Mitt Romney Struggles to Find an Actual Example of Obama Administration Regulatory Overreach

by Ben Somberg

April 19, 2012

On March 19, in a major economic policy address, Mitt Romney painted a portrait of a real-life "victim" of the Obama Administration’s supposed overregulation:

This administration’s burdensome regulations are even invading the freedom of everyday Americans.  Mike and Chantell Sackett run a small business in Idaho.  They saved enough money to buy a piece of property and build a modest home on it. But days after they broke ground, an EPA regulator told them to stop digging. The EPA said they were building on a wetland. But the Sacketts’ property isn’t on the wetlands register.  It sits in a residential area.

Nevertheless, the EPA wouldn’t let them appeal the decision.  It told the Sacketts they weren’t allowed to go to court.  An unelected government bureaucrat robbed them of their freedom.

They were given no recourse, no remedy.  They could do what the EPA wanted, or they could risk millions of dollars in fines.

The New York Times report that afternoon on the speech, by Ashley Parker, noted some important information that the Romney camp either missed or ignored:

However, Mr. Romney did not mention that the Sacketts encountered their run-in with the EPA under President George W. Bush’s administration, not under Mr. Obama.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Romney’s campaign did not respond to questions about the discrepancy.


Apart from the convenient fact-mangling, there’s also the question of whether EPA had, in fact, actually wronged the Sacketts, but I’m not going to get into that here (see our coverage of the case, by Nina Mendelson, Holly Doremus, and Joel Mintz, and analyses post-decision by Mendelson and Mintz; see also the documents NRDC obtained via FOIA shedding light on the plaintiffs’ story).

You might guess that after the New York Times piece, we wouldn’t be hearing this anecdote from candidate Romney anymore. Why bother repeating a false story when there are so many other victims out there? Why not just tell the tale of someone else that the Obama Administration has wronged by regulatory overreach?

But then here was Romney speaking to the NRA on Friday:

Mike and Chantell Sackett have seen firsthand how the Obama government interferes with personal freedom. They run a small business in Idaho.  They saved enough money to buy a piece of property and build a home. But days after they broke ground, an EPA regulator told them to stop digging. The EPA said they were building on a wetland. But the Sackett’s property isn’t on the wetlands register.  It sits in a residential area.  Nevertheless, the EPA wouldn’t even let them appeal the decision. Fortunately, the Constitution confronted the Obama administration: the Supreme Court ruled unanimously for the Sacketts and against the Obama EPA.

Wait, really? picked up on the issue Tuesday, saying:

We’re not offering any judgments about the proper reach of wetlands regulations, or what EPA did in this case. But this wasn’t solely an “Obama EPA” battle, as Romney said. It was an enforcement action initiated by the EPA under the Bush administration, and a legal dispute over a ruling made by a Republican-appointed federal judge during the Bush administration. Moreover, it was a ruling that had been reached at least four times by other federal courts over the last two decades.

Care to try a different example, Mr. Romney?

Also, the wetlands WERE on the USFWS wetland "registry." The Sacketts just didn't bother to look.
— Terry Harris
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