EPA Fines Wyoming Man $16 Million for Building a Pond on His Property
Farmers and ranchers call the EPA’s new water rule the biggest land grab in the history of the world. It is a massive land grab, especially in a country that has been built on the right to own property. The administration is changing all that.
A new oppressive water rule gives the EPA jurisdiction over all public and private streams in the United States that are “intermittent, seasonal and rain-dependent.” It will regulate what are normal daily ranching and farming practices and take control of their land.
According to congressional budget testimony, waters of the United States would give the EPA authority over streams on private property even when the water beds have been dry, in some cases, for hundreds of years.
EPA Chief Gina McCarthy tested the power of the EPA in advance of the passage of these harsh new rules by using it in the case of a Wyoming man and his pond. The rule wasn’t even put through when the EPA threatened him. McCarthy took out her pen and phone.
Andy Johnson is being fined $37,500 a day and faces criminal penalties for building a pond on his property.
Andy and Katie Johnson built a stock pond on their 8-acre Wyoming farm. They filled it with clear water, fish, ducks and geese. His horses used it to drink and graze.
All went well until the EPA went after the family for violating the Clean Water Act. Regulators showed up on the Johnson’s land one day and said they were facing a “very serous matter.”
Andy Johnson has vowed to go bankrupt before he pays the government a dime. He wants to teach his children to not back down.
The EPA claims the Johnsons built a dam on a creek without a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The EPA charges the pond discharges into other waterways. Johnson says it’s a pond to attract wildlife which is exempt from Clean Water regulations.
Johnson says a letter from the Wyoming State Engineeer’s Office proves he followed state rules.
The EPA claims they have the final say and they won’t back down.
Johnson felt hopeless when he received the EPA order, but he now has Republican lawmakers helping him, including Wyoming Senators John Barrasso, Mike Enzi, and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter.
The congressmen sent a March 12, 2014 letter to the EPA’s acting Assistant Administrator demanding the EPA withdraw the compliance order which “reads like a draconian edict of a heavy-handed bureaucracy”.
Johnson was given 60 days to hire a consultant to assess the impact and to schedule restoration work on his own property. He refused.
Mr. Johnson is being represented by the Libertarian organization, Pacific Legal Foundation, as he fights what has been called a “regulatory war” with the Obama administration over environmental issues ranging from water quality to gas drilling, coal power plants to sage grouse.
“We can’t have unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats ignoring the limits of their own authority,” said Jonathan Wood, a lawyer for the foundation. “There was no need for federal regulation here.”
“It makes no sense whatsoever,” Mr. Johnson said, pointing at the waving grasses and birds pinwheeling around the water. “We have wetlands now. I really think the E.P.A. should be coming in and saying, ‘Good job.’
Mr. Johnson had gotten full approvals from Wyoming officials, and said the federal government had no business using national water laws to make decisions about the creek that meanders through the family’s eight-acre property. Mr. Johnson and his wife, Katie, had spent $50,000 — most of their savings, they said — to create the pond to water their 10 head of cattle and four horses. Dismantling it now would be ruinously expensive and destroy what has become a tiny oasis for birds and wildlife, they said.
After a standoff of a year, Mr. Johnson sued the E.P.A., asking a judge to declare his pond legal and wave away accumulating fines that could now reach $16 million.
“They have no right to be here,” Mr. Johnson said. “We’re law-abiding people. It makes your blood boil that they would come after you like that.”
The suit says that the pond was created to water stock and is too far removed from navigable rivers to fall under the E.P.A.’s authority.