Editor’s Note – The EPA is perhaps one the most powerful agencies in the US government when it comes to direct control over the individual. It is perhaps second only to the IRS in this regard and with the recent revelations of weaponization of our federal agencies, the EPA is just as famous for playing judge, jury, and executioner.
It is also famous for its wild over reach and capricious judgments. If they determine that you are to be fined, they claim they can even garnish your wages by using a 1996 law to collect funds they say are owed for unpaid fines largely leaving you no recourse or redress of your grievances. The Washington Times tells us the following:
The Environmental Protection Agency has quietly floated a rule claiming authority to bypass the courts and unilaterally garnish paychecks of those accused of violating its rules, a power currently used by agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service.
The EPA has been flexing its regulatory muscle under President Obama, collecting more fines each year and hitting individuals with costly penalties for violating environmental rules, including recently slapping a $75,000 fine on Wyoming homeowner Andy Johnson for building a pond on his rural property.
However, that excerpt does not tell the whole story with the Johnson’s dilemma. Here is background on this EPA decision that shows the sheer power of the EPA:
When Andy and Katie Johnson built a pond on their property in 2011 to provide water for their cattle, they never dreamed it would result in threats of $75,000 a day in fines from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Johnsons believed they had done everything necessary to get permission for the pond, where the tiny Six Mile Creek runs through their property south of Fort Bridger, Wyo. The Wyoming State Engineer’s Office provided the permit and even stated in an April 4, 2013 letter to the Johnsons: “All of the legal requirements of the State Engineer’s Office, that were your responsibility, have been satisfied for the Johnson Stock Reservoir.”
The EPA saw it differently — and sent the Johnsons a Jan. 30 notice informing them they had violated the Clean Water Act, which could carry thousands of dollars in fines.
To be fair to this story, it must be mentioned that Congress did pass the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 (DCIA). From the Treasury web site we see the explanation of the law aimed at collecting non-tax debts owed to the Federal Government. Here are some excerpts:
This law centralized the government wide collection of delinquent debt and gave Treasury significant new responsibilities in this area. The Financial Management Service (FMS) is responsible for Treasury’s implementation of the debt collection provisions of the DCIA…
The types of debts referred to FMS 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. FMS sends demand letters to debtors on Treasury letterhead, and enters into repayment arrangements with debtors. FMS’ cross-servicing program administers a contract with PCAs who provide delinquent debt collection services and FMS refers debts to these PCAs.
However, in a sheer case of abject hypocrisy, why is the EPA hitting this nail with such a large sledge hammer that began in 2011 while we learned in early 2012 that many White House staffers owed huge back taxes? In fact, PolitiFact verified that this was true but also mentions that each year, many federal workers are in arrears.
The EPA uses such threats to get quicker payment because they know you are more likely to pay than go through any expensive litigation while the fines pile up and you have the burden of proving your innocence. “It is a powerful incentive for people to agree to expensive settlements rather than fight EPA charges.”
We then ask why the IRS does not pursue true tax offenders with the same zeal that the EPA exhibits to garnish the wages of simple ranchers for massive fines it unilaterally decided upon? The Johnsons thought they had done all that needed to done, only to be trumped by a federal agency, all while federal employees routinely do not try to do the right thing.
The EPA announced the plan last week in a notice in the Federal Register, saying federal law allows it “to garnish non-Federal wages to collect delinquent non-tax debts owed the United States without first obtaining a court order.”
…the rule would give the EPA sweeping authority to dictate how and whether Americans could dispute fines and penalties, even as the amount of EPA fines collected from individuals, businesses and local governments steadily increase.
The EPA said it deemed the action as not a “significant regulatory action” and therefore not subject to review.
It is yet another example of selective enforcement, Executive Branch over reach, agency weaponization, and the total disregard for the rule-of-law and fairness. Apparently the EPA is above the law in their eyes because their goals are so righteous in saving our planet, regardless of scientific fact.
However, the push back is becoming very vocal and some Senators are objecting vigorously this newest Obama Administration power grab:
GOP senators slam EPA on wage garnishment
By Timothy Cama – The Hill
Three Republican senators attacked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Thursday for a proposal that they said would allow the agency to garnish individuals’ wages.
In a letter to EPA head Gina McCarthy, the senators, led by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), called the proposal an unwarranted overreach into citizens’ lives.
The EPA would be able to garnish wages without a court order, and unilaterally decide whether people could argue against the garnishments, they said.
“While we recognize the government’s legitimate interest in efficiently and effectively pursuing delinquent debt, EPA’s new wage garnishment procedures provide an agency prone to regulatory abuses with even more power over Americans,” Vitter wrote, along with Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso.
“Individuals who face threats of ruinous fines from the agency may now have to think twice before challenging EPA over its regulatory jurisdiction.”
Under the rule proposed last week, the EPA would be allowed to garnish up to 15 percent of the “disposable pay” of anybody with non-tax debt to the agency, such as fines for violating regulations.
Thanks to the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, the agency does not need to obtain court permission before garnishing.
The EPA defended the rule, saying it complies with the 1996 law.
“EPA is complying with existing laws by adopting hearing procedures that ensure debtors receive a hearing in order to provide due process,” spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said.
“Administrative wage garnishment would apply only after EPA attempts to collect delinquent debts and after [the Treasury Department attempts to collect delinquent debts through other means.”
The garnishment process requires that the agency give advanced notice before any action and give an opportunity for the debtor to review it, contest it or negotiate a repayment agreement, Johnson said.
The EPA issued its proposal as a “direct final rule.” If no one objects to the proposal, it will become final, but if the agency receives negative comments, it will respond to them and finalize the rule in a standard rulemaking process.