In 2012, fourth generation California farmer John Duarte purchased a 450-acre field to grow wheat.
In 2013, the Army Corps of Engineers sued Duarte for plowing a 22-acre section of protected wetland (still his property) without a Clean Water Act permit.
The area of land in question is protected under the Obama-era “Waters of the United States rule,” a document that defines which streams, lakes, and marshes fall under the jurisdiction of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Duarte counter sued, but was overruled in June 2016.
This Tuesday, Duarte agreed to a settlement with the Justice Department that will have him shell out $330,000 in civil penalties and purchase $770,000 in vernal pool mitigation credits – all for plowing wheat on his own property.
“Today’s agreement affirms the Department of Justice’s commitment to the rule of law, results in meaningful environmental restoration, and brings to an end protracted litigation,” said acting assistant attorney general Jeffrey Wood.
Opponents have repeatedly criticized the case as regulatory overreach.
Duarte says the decision to settle for $1.1 million was reached “reluctantly.” His only other option would have been to go to court and risk fines of up to $45 million.
“This has been a difficult decision for me, my family, and the entire company,” said Duarte. “But given the risks posed by further trial on the government’s request for up to $45 million in penalties, and the catastrophic impact that any significant fraction of that would have on our business, our hundreds of employees, our customers and suppliers, and all the members of my family, this was the best action I could take to protect those for whom I am responsible.”
The agreement reached Tuesday also requires Duarte to assist in preservation efforts related to the Sacramento River and its tributaries.
The Waters of the US rule is one of many Obama-era regulations Trump has promised to overturn. In a February 28th executive order, he called the regulation a “massive power grab” and directed the EPA to do away it.
“The Clean Water Act says that the EPA can regulate ‘navigable waters,” said Trump. “But a few years ago, the EPA decided that ‘navigable waters’ can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land, or anyplace else that they decide, right?”
As Duarte’s attorney Tony Francois points out, the Waters of the US rule not only “undermines the clear protections that the Clean Water Act affords to farmers,” but also “poses a significant ongoing threat to farmers across the nation.”
Editor’s note: California is freakin’ crazy. The Trump administration has already repealed a great many Obama era regulations, and appointed a shark as head of the EPA. It may be time to go into more detail on those regs.