Conservatives Blast Obama Administration for Its Environmental Actions in 2007

by Ben Somberg

June 12, 2012

Rep. Joe Barton, speaking at a hearing last week, stuck it to President Obama’s EPA (at 39:00):

In Idaho, just recently, the Obama Administration went against a family called the Sacketts on a wetlands issue. Again, Mr. Chairman, the Congress sets the rules, and the Administration enforces them. This Obama Administration, in the case of the EPA, doesn’t want to play by the rules, they want to set their own rules.

At issue is the case of Mike and Chantell Sackett, decided this year by the Supreme Court. The Sacketts planned to build a house on land they had purchased in Idaho. The EPA said they could not because the land was a wetlands area; it issued the Sacketts an administrative compliance order, which they challenged in court. (See our coverage of the case, by Nina MendelsonHolly 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.)

Let's lay aside for the moment whether EPA was right to issue the order. (See some of the posts above if you want more on that.) What's striking about Barton's statement is his tenuous grip on the facts. Barton says it was President Obama's EPA that challenged the Sacketts. But the EPA issued the compliance order in 2007. Of course, in 2007, Barack Obama was the junior senator from Illinois. George W. Bush was in the White House.

Should we be generous and call it a mistake on Barton's part? If so, it's become a common one. The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed last week by Ilya Shapiro of the CATO institute on the Supreme Court’s “rejection of the Obama administration's increasingly extreme claims on behalf of unlimited federal power.” One of three examples: the Sackett case. (In response to critics, such as Media Matters’ David Lyle, Shapiro later wrote on his blog that what he meant to argue is that the Obama Administration’s Justice Department should not have defended the actions of the Bush Administration EPA in court. We’ll keep you posted if we ever find a Shapiro blog post from 2007 bashing the compliance order at the time.)

Mitt Romney has cited the compliance order issued to the Sacketts as an example of Obama overreach at least twice. In fact, after a March speech in which he wrongly attributed the EPA's action to the Obama Administration, Romney was pulled up short by a New York Times article, pointing out that the compliance order was from 2007. Romney was undeterred. On April 13, in a speech to the NRA, he repeated his mistake.

A little closer to the middle of the road, a Washington Post editorial last month got in on the act, too. It didn’t explicitly say who was in charge of the EPA at the time, but described the Sackett incident as a “recent, high-profile miscalculation on the part of the EPA.” That’s quite an unfortunate choice of words to describe an action that happened more than four and a half years ago.

Usually, if Obama does something, the right wing hates it. But in this case, we have just the opposite. Barton, Romney and others on the right hate something and so assume Obama did it. It'll be interesting to see if they keep repeating their mistake.

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