A Wyoming farmer and his attorneys have won a significant victory against the EPA.
In a settlement, the agency has backed off in its threat to fine Andy Johnson tens of millions of dollars because he built a stock pond on his own property.
“Importantly, under the settlement, the Johnson family’s pond will remain; they won’t pay any fines; they don’t concede any federal jurisdiction to regulate their pond; and the government won’t pursue any further enforcement actions based on the pond’s construction,” a press release from the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented Johnson, states.
The EPA contended that Johnson violated the Clean Water Act by building a stock pond without a permit. The agency threatened him with $37,500-a-day in fines that added up to $16 million.
“This settlement is a win for the Johnson family, and a win for the environment,” Jonathan Wood, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, said. “Under it, the Johnsons will pay no fine. They will not lose their property. They will not have to agree to federal jurisdiction or a federal permit, which would have surely entailed onerous conditions. In effect, the government will treat the pond as an exempt stock pond, in exchange for Andy further improving on the environmental benefits he has already created.”
Johnson’s troubles began in 2012 when he built a small stock on his property near Beaver, Wyoming. Even though Johnson had a state permit, the EPA tried to claim he violated the Clean Water Act and ordered him to remove the pond.
“You can imagine how terrifying it must be to receive such an order,” Wood said. “In an instant, Andy Johnson’s future, and that of his children, was thrown into turmoil. Would he be prosecuted? Would he be assessed large fines that, being an ordinary person, would cause his family’s financial ruin? Would the government essentially take control over his property, which was also his home?”
Under the settlement, the EPA will drop the fines if Johnson plants some willow trees and fences part of the pond off from livestock, Wood said. The EPA had contended Johnson was damaging the environment by building the pond.
Johnson’s attorneys noted the pond drained into an irrigation ditch. They also claimed that Johnson helped the environment and animals by creating a pond and wetlands.
“This is a huge victory for us as well as private property owners across the country,” Johnson said. “The next family that finds itself in our situation, facing ominous threats from EPA, can take heart in knowing that many of these threats will not come to pass. If, like us, you stand up to the overreaching bureaucrats, they may very well back down.”
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