The California farmer who became the poster child for EPA reform under President Donald Trump is being fined $2.8 million by state and federal regulators for plowing his own field in Tehama County.
According to a story in the Redding Record Searchlight:
“The case is the first time that we’re aware of that says you need to get a (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) permit to plow to grow crops,” said Anthony Francois, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation.
“We’re not going to produce much food under those kinds of regulations,” he said.
However, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller agreed with the Army Corps in a judgment issued in June 2016. A penalty trial, in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office asks for $2.8 million in civil penalties, is set for August.
It all started in 2012 when a Modesto farmer named John Duarte, owner of Duarte Nursery, bought 450 acres near Red Bluff in Tehama County.
Because the acreage had numerous “swales and wetlands,” Duarte made the decision to hire a consulting firm to map out areas on the property to mark off areas that drained into the nearby Coyote and Oak creeks — which, under an Obama-era regulation, are considered to be “waters of the United States,” (“WOTUS”).
According to the Record report, Francois and court records confirmed that Duarte planned to grow wheat on the 450 acres.
The wheat Duarte planted was never harvested, “because in February 2013 the Army Corps of Engineers and the California Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board issued orders to stop work at the site because Duarte had violated the Clean Water Act by not obtaining a permit to discharge dredged or fill material into seasonal wetlands considered waters of the United States.”
Duarte responded by suing the Army Corps and the state of California. The U.S. Attorney’s office filed a counter-suit.
The government’s case appears to rest entirely on a technicality created under the new rule that grants EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers sweeping powers in what President Trump, at the signing of an executive order directing EPA to begin repealing WOTUS, described as “a massive power grab” granting the federal government control of “nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land.”
“The wetlands in my case amount to very minor depressions — they’re vernal pools — far away and disconnected from any stream or navigable waters,” Duarte told the Times. “Sometimes they’re just dark spots in the grass to the layperson.”
In an ironic twist, the Times noted that “[d]uring the Senate hearing on Pruitt’s nomination, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst used a photograph of Duarte’s furrows as a backdrop, mocking a federal brief that said ‘the furrow tops now serve as small mountain ranges.'”
Despite Trump’s new policy, federal regulators are still demanding almost $3 million from an American farmer for plowing his own privately acquired farmland — land that he reasonably assumed to be exempt from the regulation now being enforced.