How Obama’s EPA Nearly Bankrupted John Duarte’s Farm (New at Reason)
EPA Chief Scott Pruitt has set out to transform the agency he leads to a greater extent than any of Trump’s other cabinet appointees, pledging to end what he dubbed the agency’s “anti-energy agenda” by loosening requirements on carbon emissions and eliminating land use restrictions.
In his first speech to EPA employees, Pruitt laid out his goal of returning the agency to its core focus of protecting the environment while following what he called “the letter of the law.”
Environmentalists vehemently opposed Pruitt’s appointment, depicting him as a climate change denier determined to undermine the EPA’s core mission of protecting the environment.
One of Pruitt’s first targets is a controversial rule on water pollution put in place by the Obama administration that he deemed a “power grab” by environmental regulators.
To better understand why property rights advocates applauded the move, consider the case of fourth-generation farmer John Duarte, who has fought a protracted and costly legal battle with federal regulators over how to till his 450-acre farm in Tehama County, California.
In 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers, working in conjunction with the EPA, accused Duarte of damaging wetland features on his property. He was hit with $30 million in fines and restoration fees.
Duarte’s troubles stemmed from a 2015 provision in the Clean Water Act known as the Waters of the United States rule that was meant to better protect large bodies of water by regulating use of the streams, ponds, and ditches that flow into them. The EPA has used this provision to micromanage private land use.
The agency accused Duarte of mismanaging the wetland areas located on his property, claiming that his four-inch plow furrows created small mountain ranges. They contend Duarte should have obtained a permit before tilling his own land.
“We become peasants where these federal prosecutors can come in like the Sheriff of Nottingham, decide for themselves what they think a family can pay,” Duarte says. “If the federal prosecutors can come on this land with this set of facts, there is no farm in America that is safe from this kind of prosecution.”
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