The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is letting a Wyoming farmer keep the pond he constructed in a closely watched case on the federal government’s jurisdiction over waterways.
Andy Johnson had sued the EPA last year over about $16 million in fines that he had amassed for constructing a pond on his property without an EPA permit, in a creek that the agency said is subject to the Clean Water Act.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative law firm that represented Johnson, applauded the settlement as a major victory for property rights, as did Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoInterior reverses Trump, moves BLM headquarters back to DC Lobbying world A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate MORE (R-Wyo.).
The case comes amid conservative accusations that the EPA is trampling private property rights. The agency made final a regulation last year asserting federal power over small bodies of water, which opponents say gives it authority over nearly all land in the country.
The regulation has been put on hold by an appeals court, and Johnson’s case was handled entirely under the existing regulations concerning federal jurisdiction.
Under the settlement reached Monday in federal court, Johnson will not have to pay the fines or drain the pond. But he will have to plant willow trees around the pond to protect the ground from erosion, and he’ll have to put a fence to temporarily protect it from livestock.
“It shouldn't have come to this. Local land-use decisions should never be driven by Washington, and the EPA should never be able to fine someone millions of dollars for building a pond on their own land,” Barrasso said in a statement.
“This settlement is a welcome rebuke of an agency that has gone too far,” he said.
“This is a victory for common sense and the environment, and it brings an end to all the uncertainty and fear that the Johnson family faced,” Jonathan Wood, Johnson’s attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, said in a statement.