February 26, 2016

US Senator Grassley speaks on PLF client John Duarte's fight with federal wetland enforcers

By Anthony L. Francois Senior Attorney

Yesterday, February 25, United States Senator Chuck Grassley (R – Iowa) took to the floor of the Senate Chamber to inform his colleagues about PLF client John Duarte’s ongoing battle against the Army Corps of Engineers over federal claims that Duarte Nursery needed an expensive and onerous federal permit simply to plow its fields. Senator Grassley read an article about the case, first appearing in the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman publication, into the Congressional Record, and offered his own comments on the controversy. He particularly objected to the Corps of Engineers’ position in the case that plowing “converts wetlands to dryland” because the plow leaves a three inch ridge in its wake, which the agency’s experts claim are “mini-mountain ranges” (or, as Mr. Duarte puts it, Sierra de minimus).

Senator Grassley also explained the broad concern that farmers and ranchers will be increasingly subject to these kinds of punitive prosecutions under the new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule, which makes much more farmland potentially subject to EPA and Corps of Engineers regulatory power under the Clean Water Act. Duarte Nursery’s actions on its farm are exempt from permitting under both the text of the Clean Water Act and regulations implementing the Act. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has dismissed farmers’ criticism of the new WOTUS Rule because of these exemptions. But actions speak louder than words, and the Corps of Engineers’ case against Duarte Nursery shows that the agency thinks these exemptions mean little or nothing in practice.

PLF sincerely appreciates Senator Grassley’s interest in the case, and his dedication of time and attention to it on the Senate Floor. We are gratified that an increasing number of our nation’s legislators, including the Speaker of the House, take the Corps of Engineers’ outrages in this case seriously, and realize that cases like this reflect the broad policy and practice of an overzealous and repressive bureaucracy.

Watch Senator Grassley’s comments here:

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Duarte Nursery v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

John Duarte and Duarte Nursery, in rural Tehama County, California, received a cease and desist order from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for engaging in normal farming activities (i.e., plowing) that purportedly affected wetlands. Duarte was not permitted any type of hearing to defend himself.

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