Rural Wyoming Landowner Fights Back Against EPA Push To Fine Him For Building A Stock Pond

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You may already know that the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to implement a draft rule that would empower the agency to micromanage what private property owners can do with their land. But the EPA isn’t waiting for new rules to make one Wyoming farmer’s life miserable for daring to dig a stock pond on his rural property.

The agency is attempting to fine Andy Johnson, a welder who owns an 8-acre Wyoming farm, up to $75,000 per day for allegedly failing to seek clearance from the Federal government before he dug a pond to stock with fish, attract waterfowl and serve as a recreational stomping ground for his three children. The EPA is claiming that Johnson dammed a small creek to create the pond, but even Wyoming’s Congressional delegates question that claim.

Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, both Republicans, learned of Johnson’s struggle with the EPA after Johnson took his case before his State Legislative delegation, and have since criticized the agency for attempting to test the limits of its regulatory muscle by fixating on a small property owner who simply dug a small recreational pond.

“Rather than a sober administration of the Clean Water Act, the [EPA’s] Compliance Order reads like a draconian edict of a heavy-handed bureaucracy,” the Senators wrote in a March 12 letter demanding the EPA withdraw a compliance order it sent to Johnson. That order instructs Johnson to hire a consultant to assess the environmental impact of any runoff from the pond, and to provide the agency a schedule that outlines his plan to have any compliance changes made at the site within a 60-day time limit.

Johnson told FOX News he sought the State’s permission before embarking on the small project. And, like Senators Barasso and Enzi, he maintains that only an expansive interpretation of the Clean Water Act would give the EPA any reason to believe it had enforcement powers over the construction of a small pond on rural family land.

He also said there’s no way in hell he’s giving in to the EPA.

“I have not paid them a dime nor will I. I will go bankrupt if I have to fighting it. My wife and I built [the pond] together. We put our blood, sweat and tears into it. It was our dream,” he said. “This goes a lot further than a pond. It’s about a person’s rights. I have three little kids. I am not going to roll over and let [the government] tell me what I can do on my land. I followed the rules.”

It appears that he did. Stock ponds are exempt from the Clean Water Act, and Johnson sought and received clearance from the Wyoming State Engineer’s office before starting the project in 2012.

Johnson’s case my represent a test to determine how easily the EPA would be able to enforce an expanded interpretation of the Clean Water Act under a new draft rule proposal. Under new guidelines the agency is pursuing, the EPA would be authorized to oversee or block any private land-management project, no matter how rural, that it deems to be located within a “significant nexus” (whatever that means) of protected waterways and watersheds.

If the new rule is approved, environmental groups with no prior knowledge of a landowner or his land-use practices would gain standing, under the law, to sue over small-scale projects that share any portion of a water table or watershed with Federally protected areas — regardless of their distance from the site.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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