1) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) imprisoned a 77-year-old Navy veteran Joe Robertson for 18 months for building ponds on his remote property to fight forest fires. The property in rural Montana was 40 miles from the nearest major river, and the EPA claimed that the one-foot by one-foot wide channel that Mr. Robertson used to fill the ponds was “commercially navigable water” and that he did not obtain the proper clearance from the Army Corps of Engineers in violation of the Waters of the United States regulation. In addition to the prison sentence, Mr. Robertson was fined $130,000. Mr. Robertson died in 2019, just a month before the Supreme Court overturned his conviction and reversed his fine. The EPA received $10.1 billion in funding in FY23.
2) The Labor Department (DOL) attempted to shut down Rhea Lana Riner’s children’s clothing consignment company using an expansive interpretation of federal labor law. The company exists to ensure parents had access to affordable children’s clothing. Rhea Lana Riner began her business in the basement of her home. In order to ensure parents had access to even more affordable clothing options, they had the option to volunteer by putting price tags on clothing before sales events started. In exchange for this volunteer activity, parents would have early access to the sales event and additional price reductions on purchases. The DOL declared that this violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA), and that these volunteers were actually employees, even though not a single parent had complained. The DOL then individually informed numerous volunteers that they could sue Riner’s business. When none did, the DOL forced Riner to change her business model, taking away a desired customer option to make children’s clothing more affordable. The DOL received $13.5 billion in funding in FY23.
3) The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a cease and desist letter to vision-testing service company, Visibly, for employing an innovative telehealth model because it did not get permission first. Visibly began offering internet-based vision test services in 2012. The company was transparent to the FDA about the nature of its telehealth prior to launching. Their exams did not require pre-market approval under FDA regulations. However, the innovative model and convenience to consumers threatened brick-and-mortar optometrists. Lobbyists hired by the optometrists convinced the FDA to use its power to send a cease and desist letter to Visibly. Despite reasonable efforts by Visibly to work with the FDA, efforts to shut them down moved forward. The FDA responded by issuing a letter announcing its intention to move on to enforcement actions. Visibly’s business model was saved only by broadly issued guidance for telemedicine due to COVID-19 mitigation measures. The FDA received $3.5 billion in funding in FY23.
4) The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) reversed a long-standing rule barring the ownership of pistol stabilizing braces–first designed to assist disabled veterans in firing pistols–potentially turning tens of millions of law-abiding Americans into felons. These braces have been authorized to be affixed to a variety of firearms by the ATF and were purchased by potentially tens of millions of American gun owners. Pistol braces do nothing more than attach the butt-end of a firearm to the arm of a shooter, providing more stability while firing. The complicated nature of this rule change by the ATF could put even those attempting to comply with the rule in legal jeopardy, not to mention the millions of Americans who may not follow the news closely and be completely unaware that they need to take proactive steps to avoid becoming a felon. The ATF received $1.8 billion in funding in FY23.
5) The Interior Department (DOI) refused to re-issue an oyster farming permit to Drakes Bay Oyster Company and shut it down. Kevin Lunney owned and operated the Drakes Bay Oyster Company in Northern California. The DOI was permitted to renew the company’s permit for oyster farming, and there was bipartisan support in Congress to do so. At the behest of environmental groups, DOI arbitrarily refused to do so, stating they had the power to deny permits for no reason at all. Ultimately, the business was forced to shut down after a years-long court battle. The DOI received $16.6 billion in funding in FY23.
6) The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) declared the Sackett family’s property a wetland to prevent them from building a home, even though other developments had already been constructed. Between this small plot of land and nearby Priest Lake, a row of residential homes had already been built and developed. Soon after construction on the Sackett home commenced, the EPA and the Corps declared the plot of land a wetland under the Clean Water Act with instructions to halt development. The Sacketts were then ordered to restore the land or face a $75,000 daily penalty. The EPA refused to allow a hearing to challenge this enforcement action and then later declared that the action couldn’t be challenged in court. The Supreme Court ultimately overrode the EPA and allowed a legal challenge to proceed in court. The EPA and the Corps received $10.1 billion and $5.5 billion in funding in FY23, respectively.
7) The Agriculture Department (USDA) targeted an Indiana farmer for removing nine trees on his own land as an impermissible conversion of wetland to cropland and ignored his appeal for a decade. David Boucher removed nine trees on his own land to add additional cropland. The USDA declared this to be an improper conversion of wetland to cropland. Mr. Boucher appealed, and the USDA refused to respond to his appeal for almost a decade. In that intervening period, Mr. Boucher passed away. His widow was later able to obtain legal relief in federal court. The USDA received $26.8 billion in funding in FY23.
8) The Defense Department (DOD) held the careers of 11 Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) members in legal limbo for two years while denying them their benefits, pay, and time-in-grade, for claiming a religious exemption to the experimental COVID-19 shots. The officers were on track to fill critically needed roles in our armed forces as pilots, engineers, cyber warfare experts, and doctors. But, soon after they graduated, the vaccine mandate began. These Air Force officers exhausted nearly every administrative channel open to them, but because of an epic lack of leadership and accountability, the military has only recently allowed them to move forward with their careers, though still denying them back pay. This abuse of power is particularly unique because most other affected military personnel were allowed to receive pay and benefits while awaiting their religious liberty exemption adjudication before being denied and discharged.
9) The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigated Scott Smith as a domestic terrorist because he demanded to speak at a local school board meeting about his daughter being the victim of sexual assault, a matter the local school board tried to cover up. After the Loudoun County (VA) District Superintendent told those present at a local meeting that there wasn’t “any record of assaults occurring in our restrooms.” Mr. Smith angrily objected, noting that his daughter’s case was actively being investigated. Someone in the audience verbalized doubt in the veracity of the daughter’s claims, leading to a verbal argument. The local school board had local police forcibly arrest and remove the father for verbally defending his daughter’s reputation. The FBI received $11.3 billion in funding in FY23.
10) The Department of Agriculture (USDA) confiscated roughly a third of Marvin Horne’s raisin crop and fined him $685,000 when he refused to comply. The National Raisin Reserve, operated by the Raisin Administrative Committee via granted authorities of the USDA, sent trucks to pick up raisins that they deemed Mr. Horne was obligated to provide them. Mr. Horne declined, preferring to sell his raisins on the open market, and the USDA issued large fines as a coercive measure. The Supreme Court ultimately sided with Mr. Horne. The USDA received $26.8 billion in funding in FY23.