The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ignored decades of established law when it told John Duarte to stop plowing his land. Duarte didn’t back down and is now in the fight of his life: a lawsuit to preserve agricultural exemptions under the Clean Water Act, the very exemptions the EPA tells us will remain under the WOTUS (Waters of the U.S.) Rule.
Speaking at the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention, Duarte explains why this court battle is so important, and why many legal observers think it will end up in the Supreme Court.
As the enforcer of water regulations, the Army Corps of Engineers has told fourth-generation tree, vine and wheat grower John Duarte, a member of Farm Bureau in California, that he broke the law simply by plowing his land in rural Tehama County, California. Experts say that under the EPA’s WOTUS rule, the same type of regulatory enforcement could become commonplace, threatening farmers across the nation. EPA has said that farmers have no need to worry about the rule because normal farming is exempt from regulation, but what’s happening to the Duarte family shows how the EPA and the Corps work around that exemption.
“The Corps and EPA aren’t trying to micromanage farmers. They’re trying to stop farmers,” Duarte said. “They’re trying to turn our farm land into habitat preservation. They’re simply trying to chase us off of our land.”
Duarte decided to take his case to court, which was met by a counter-suit from the U.S. Justice Department, seeking millions of dollars in penalties, basically for plowing his field, according to Tony Francois, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing Duarte.
“Anyone who’s being told not to worry about the new WOTUS rule, they should be thinking about this case,” Francois said. “The very thing they are telling you not to worry about is what they are suing Duarte over – just plowing.”