On August 24, 2014, I asked these questions:
Imagine there was a federal government agency that could make up its own rules as it went along. Imagine that it could declare crimes, making previously lawful practices and benign daily actions illegal, independent of any congressional legislation. Imagine that it could deny those accused of violating its regulations and pseudo-laws due process and assess fines beyond the ability of any but the obscenely wealthy to pay. Imagine that it could seize lands and buildings whenever it chose. Imagine further that it could, without due process of law, garnish the wages of people it accuses of violating its whims.
I was speaking, of course, of the Environment Protection Agency, one of the most unaccountable, corrupt, arrogant and anti-American wings of the Progressive movement.
On October 19, 2014, I added this:
On August 24, 2014, I posted an article titled “EPA Cockroaches v. Wyoming Welder,” the story of Wyoming welder Andy Johnson who, owning a modest eight acre ranch, had a dream. Johnson and his wife Katie wanted to build a small stock pond (depicted above–notice his palatial mansion in the background) to stock with fish, water their horses, attract livestock, and serve as an educational resource for their three daughters.
Vicious environmental criminal and scofflaw that he is, Johnson met every requirement of Wyoming authorities for building the stock pond, and has the paperwork to prove it. But that, of course, did not satisfy the imperious bureaucrats at the Obama EPA, who are threatening him with more than $70,000.00 a day in fines if he does not obliterate the pond and do everything else the EPA prefers. This despite the fact that such stock ponds fall under a clear exception in the Clean Water Act. The EPA demands that citizens prove themselves innocent, tries to deny them access to the courts, and in general assumes the mantle of petty tyrant.
It’s now August of 2015, and Wyoming news.com updates the story. As one might imagine, the EPA has not learned that it serves the public, and has not adopted a policy of obeying the law.
A southwest Wyoming farmer is taking the Environmental Protection Agency to court for what he says is an illegal overreach of its authority.
Andy Johnson of Fort Bridger has been locked in a battle of wills with the EPA since 2013, when he built a stock pond on his property to provide a watering hole for his cattle.
Not long after the pond was built, however, the EPA informed Johnson that the pond, which is connected to Six Mile Creek south of Fort Bridger, was in violation of the Clean Water Act.
Johnson protested, stating that he had sought and received a permit through the state engineer’s office, which subsequently confirmed that the stock pond met all of the office’s legal requirements.
But that failed to convince the EPA, which sent Johnson a compliance order in January 2014 instructing him to remove the stock pond or face $37,500 in fines for every day he refused to do so.
That’s nearly $14 million dollars per year, not imposed under the law by a properly constituted court, not the result of due process, but the whim of arrogant, power-mad federal bureaucrats. The idea that Johnson, or almost any American citizen, could possibly pay such sums is utter absurdity. Johnson took his case to the steps of the Wyoming capitol building:
My family depends on me, and when the EPA came into my life, they didn’t just attack me, they attacked our family and our home,’ Johnson said before a crowd of family, friends and well-wishers. ‘We’ve told them time and time and time again that it’s exempt, here’s the facts, and they’ve basically ignored it.
The Pacific Legal Foundation is representing Johnson. PLF attorney Jonathan Wood:
The Clean Water Act expressly exempts stock ponds from its reach; the EPA has no business regulating it,’ Wood said. ‘In the year and a half (Johnson has) spent trying to explain to them that they’ve overreached, his fines are already approaching $20 million.
But isn’t the EPA merely trying to protect Americans from the evils of pollution? Don’t livestock and other animals poop and pee in that water? Isn’t that so dangerous that tens of millions in fines are not only necessary, but reasonable and just?
Wood said Johnson’s pond has, in fact, proven environmentally beneficial, creating new habitat for fish, wildlife and migratory birds. Further, he said independent lab tests have shown the water flowing out of the pond is three times cleaner than the water entering it, and the amount of suspended solids in the pond are 41 times smaller than in the nearest navigable waterway, the Green River.
‘It’s incredibly ironic that the agency that’s right now in hot water for having dumped 3 million gallons of toxic water into a river is wasting its time and resources going after Andy for doing something that’s actually good for the environment,’ Wood said.
Wyomingites tend to band together to fight unwarranted federal over-reach. They tend not to like bullies and they fight to win:
Along with Wood, Johnson is receiving local representation from attorneys Dan Frank of Frank Law Office and Karen Budd-Falen with Budd-Falen Law Offices. All three offices are helping Johnson free of charge.
‘As we investigated this case, we found out the Army Corps of Engineers asserted jurisdiction over this little creek without ever leaving the office. They did what’s called a ‘desktop determination,’ Frank said. ‘Had they ever gone out, they’d have found it dead-ends in a canal, and it doesn’t ever reach any navigable waters of the United States.’
‘We’re bringing this action for a judge to tell the EPA that, number one, they don’t have jurisdiction,’ Frank said. ‘And number two, this is an exempt stock pond, and the desktop speculation and heavy-handed regulation that have resulted are not going to fly in Wyoming.
But surely the EPA has offered, from the beginning, to ensure Johnson was afforded due process? His day in court? Not so much:
Wood noted that, until fairly recently, it wasn’t even possible for individuals to take the EPA to court over perceived overreach, as in Johnson’s case. But after his own law firm established that precedent two years ago, Wood said the EPA has shown a willingness to back down once it has been formally challenged.
‘They hope you never find out you can sue. They hope you’ll give up because the fines are so incredibly massive,’ Wood said. ‘But when you stand up for your rights, they will often back down.
Oh, but Johnson is probably suing for billions. This is all about the money, isn’t it?
He [Wood] added that Johnson is not seeking any financial restitution from the EPA through his lawsuit, merely that the agency rescind its compliance order and allow Johnson to continue using his stock pond. Wood expressed confidence that the courts would rule in Johnson’s favor.
‘We can’t know exactly when we’ll get a resolution, but this case is incredibly straightforward’ he said. ‘The judge should have no problem deciding it relatively quickly, so optimistically, maybe a year, year and a half.’
Regardless of the outcome, Wood noted that either PLF or the EPA may choose to appeal the case, in which case he said his office is prepared to take it to the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, or even the U.S. Supreme Court, ‘if it does come to that.
Communistic EPA abuse of honest Americans has certainly not been limited to the Obama Administration, but it certainly has reached new depths of depravity. Mr. Obama is obviously desperate to use the EPA to enrich his green energy cronies and to seriously cripple, if not destroy, the inexpensive and plentiful generation of energy before he leaves office. Andy Johnson is just another little guy who had the bad luck to fall under the EPA’s gaze.
I suspect, however, the EPA will discover that Wyoming is not friendly territory. I’ll continue to follow the story.