Duarte would’ve risked over $45 million in penalties had he continued
Earlier this summer, I reported that the EPA was moving to rescind the Obama era’s confiscatory and confusing Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rules.
But this did not come in time for one California farmer, who reached a settlement in the case involving a wheat field he plowed.
Northern California farmer John Duarte spent years fighting the federal government after being fined for plowing over protected wetlands on his property. He attracted a nationwide army of conservative supporters who saw it as government overreach and hoped the Trump administration would order federal officials to back off.
But just before his trial was set to start Tuesday, Duarte settled.
Duarte agreed to pay $330,000 in fines and another $770,000 on “compensatory mitigation,” according to a settlement agreement reached shortly before proceedings were to begin in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.
A judge already had ruled that Duarte broke the law; the trial was going to establish the penalties. The government had sought a $2.8 million fine and tens of millions of dollars in mitigation expenses.
Duarte was looking at a substantially higher fine, if he continued to pursue the case and tried to appeal the judgement.
“This has been a difficult decision for me, my family, and the entire company, and we have come to it reluctantly,” said John Duarte.
“But given the risks posed by further trial on the government’s request for up to $45 million in penalties, and the catastrophic impact that any significant fraction of that would have on our business, our hundreds of employees, our customers and suppliers, and all the members of my family, this was the best action I could take to protect those for whom I am responsible.”
John would have preferred to see this case through to trial and appealed the court’s liability ruling, which holds that plowing a field requires federal permission — despite the clear text of the Clean Water Act and regulations to the contrary,” said [Pacific Legal Foundation Senior Attorney Tony] Francois. “John and his counsel remain concerned that legal liability for farming without federal permission undermines the clear protections that the Clean Water Act affords to farming and poses a significant ongoing threat to farmers across the nation.
The troubles for Duarte began in 2013, when the Army Corps of Engineers began implementing a poorly written set of rules:
…Mr. Duarte bought the 450-acre plot in Tehama County to grow wheat, but the Army Corps of Engineers ruled in 2013 that the pools running alongside the furrows were navigable waters under the Waters of the U.S., codified by the Obama administration in 2015.
The Corps. said he should have obtained a permit first and accused him of “ripping” federally protected wetlands. Mr. Duarte sued the Corps., but a federal judge ruled against him in June 2016.
Under the consent decree, Mr. Duarte admitted no liability but must “smooth all disturbed soil surfaces and reasonably match the pre-November 2012 grade and hydrology within impacted waters of the United States on the site,” which is about 22 acres.
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.