14 May 2017 - The Wetlands Battle Continues

The story continues of a California farmer vs. the U.S. government, John Duarte is his name. He farms near Modesto, California. We have written about him several times here on Samuelson Sez, and his frustration continues to grow over the reach of the Clean Water Act. He is hoping that Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House will find a reasonable settlement for his situation.

Here is the story, and remember this could be you or any other farmer or rancher. Duarte currently faces up to $35 million in fines and the purchase of mitigation acre credits after a federal judge in March said she would not reconsider an earlier ruling rejecting his claims that his work on a California wheat field is covered by a plowing exemption under the Clean Water Act.

John purchased the tract in 2012 and plowed it to plant wheat. The Army Corps of Engineers then sent Duarte a cease-and-desist order, alleging that he may have illegally gone through vernal pools on the property, which are periodic wet areas that can provide wildlife habitat, but they are not wet all year long.

Of the 450 acres that Duarte plowed, 22 acres contain vernal pools. In response, Duarte sued, contending that his due process rights to a fair hearing had been violated. The government responded by countersuing, raising Clean Water Act claims.

There were other court appearances and other court actions that have continued until now. Duarte has spent $1.8 million of his own money so far, defending himself and he took Donald Trump’s election as President as a good sign for his case, and for farmers broadly, because of Mr. Trump’s promise to cut back on over-regulation

The Clean Water Act has now been put on hold. Farmers and ranchers have contended since its passage that it was a federal land-grab because any piece of land that had water in it for any amount of time could be declared by the Army Corps of Engineers as well as other government agencies to be under the rules of the Clean Water Act. Whether that changes John Duarte’s case remains to be seen, but come on, $35-million in fines for plowing 22 acres makes no sense at all. I wish John Duarte a successful outcome as he continues his battle against the U. S. Government.

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