Robin Bravender, E&E reporter
A Wyoming man and his home-state lawmakers see a court settlement with U.S. EPA as a big win after a yearslong legal battle over a pond.
Andy Johnson, a welder from southwestern Wyoming, and EPA reached a settlement in a federal district court this week over a pond he built in 2012 to provide water to his small herd of livestock, including horses and cattle. Government officials informed Johnson that he didn’t have the appropriate Clean Water Act permits and ordered him to restore the wetlands or face potential fines of up to $37,500 per day. Johnson sued EPA in 2015, asking a court to reject the agency’s compliance order.
The settlement reached this week allows Johnson to keep the pond in place without paying fines and requires him to mitigate environmental impacts by planting willows near the pond and constructing fences along part of the pond to minimize the impact of livestock on the plantings.
“This is a huge victory for us as well as private property owners across the country,” Johnson said in a statement. “The next family that finds itself in our situation, facing ominous threats from EPA, can take heart in knowing that many of these threats will not come to pass. If, like us, you stand up to the overreaching bureaucrats, they may very well back down.”
Johnson was represented in court by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative group that often backs property owners in disputes challenging government environmental rules.
“Although he would have liked to litigate his case to the end and win a victory for all property owners who find themselves in similar unfair situations with regulators, this was the proverbial deal that was too good to refuse,” PLF attorney Jonathan Wood said in a statement, noting that further litigation would have stretched on for years.
Wyoming lawmakers, too, hailed the agreement while condemning what they view as EPA overreach.
“This settlement is a welcome rebuke of an agency that has gone too far,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a statement. Under the Obama administration, he added, “people like Andy Johnson have to spend more and more time and money battling out-of-control Washington agencies like the EPA.” Barrasso vowed to work in the Senate to fight “these kinds of regulatory assaults.”
Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) also congratulated Johnson on a “victory for all landowners” and vowed to “continue fighting the EPA’s overreach in every form and at every level throughout the last throes of this reckless administration.” Lummis called it a “gross abuse” that EPA “took as long as they did to admit their overreach and stop bullying and threatening the Johnson family.”
EPA’s 2014 compliance order found that Johnson had violated the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants into regulated waters. He had dammed a creek on his property using sand, gravel and concrete blocks in order to fill the pond.
EPA spokesman Nick Conger said today that the agreement “is the result of constructive dialogue between EPA and Mr. Johnson to resolve compliance issues identified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2012.”
Click here to read the settlement.
— Originally published by GreenWire. Contact E&E publishing for permission to republish.