House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (TX-11) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Bob Goodlatte (VA-6) are calling for a review of a California court case involving a farmer who failed to get a permit to plow his land and now faces a $2.8 million fine under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
Conaway and Goodlatte sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking for a review of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to prosecute a California court case alleging violations under CWA – directly related to both the statutory exemptions for farming and Obama administration’s waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.
The letter requests information about DOJ’s process for prosecuting violations of the CWA, citing specific concerns about the case of Duarte Nursery v. Army Corps of Engineers. In the letter, the chairmen note both committees’ concerns that the court’s opinion is “not consistent with legislative intent behind the farming exemptions under the CWA.” The letter also seeks to clarify whether a legislative fix is required to protect farmers, such California farmer John Duarte, from similar prosecution in the future.
Mr. Duarte’s case stems from a February 2013 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) allegation that the vernal pools on Mr. Duarte’s land are considered WOTUS, thus subject to CWA authority. The Corps argued that based on inconsistent agriculture production patterns on Mr. Duarte’s land prior to his purchase in 2012 he did not qualify for farming exemptions and had violated the CWA when he plowed his field in late 2012. Mr. Duarte now faces fines of roughly $2.8 million and additional costly mitigation measures.
“Mr. Duarte’s case clearly highlights the need to keep the federal government out of America’s backyards, fields, and ditches. Little-by-little we watched the previous administration chip away at the rights of land and property-owners, aiming to expand its authority through broad new rules under WOTUS, all while providing little clarity to farmers and ranchers about what qualifies for exemptions. Our letter aims to work with the new administration to better define current interpretations of both WOTUS and farming exemptions so we can begin to set new rules of the road that will protect our farmers and ranchers from onerous fines, penalties and regulations,” said Chairman Conaway.
“The regulatory overreach of the previous administration is having a negative impact on the lives of hardworking Americans. Congress made its intentions of how the Clean Water Act was to be applied for the health and safety of Americans, but the Obama administration has twisted law to serve a political agenda. We will work with President Trump and the new administration to reverse Obama-era regulations that are hurting American farmers, as well as other industries, and private citizens alike,” said Chairman Goodlatte.