New Member on House Ag, Natural Resources Fought EPA, DOJ on WOTUS

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A California Congressman just assigned to the House Ag and Natural Resources committees had a legal run-in a few years ago with the EPA and Department of Justice over alleged ‘Waters of the U.S.’ violations.

Fourth-generation tree, vine and wheat grower John Duarte sued EPA after it told him to stop plowing his land in violation of WOTUS and was then sued by the Justice Department for millions in fines.

Duarte later settled the case, agreeing to pay $330,000 in civil penalties, $770,000 in mitigation credits and limit use of 44 acres. Now, Duarte’s been named to the House Ag and Natural Resources committees, giving him a more powerful voice on WOTUS.

Tony Francois, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, represented Duarte and says “the very thing EPA’s telling you not to worry about is what they sued Duarte over – just plowing.” “The regulators have used the expansiveness and the ambiguity and vagueness of the ‘significant nexus test’ to really push the outer limits of their authority.”

National Cattlemen’s Chief Counsel Mary Thomas Hart argued in December, the final Biden EPA WOTUS rule shows farmers like Duarte may still face fines for normal farming practices. “The rule doesn’t clearly exempt isolated or ephemeral features from federal jurisdiction.”

American Farm Bureau’s Courtney Briggs claims EPA and the Army Corps jumped the gun on an expected Supreme Court ruling later this year. “That was one of the reasons we asked the agencies to wait until the Supreme Court issued a decision in Sackett, because we’re introducing a new, and frankly, confusing rule to an already very convoluted permitting process.”

Tony Francois’ Pacific Legal Foundation is also challenging the government in Sacketts vs. EPA in a bid to replace a split Court ruling in 2006 with a clear majority behind a narrow WOTUS definition.

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