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In 2012, John Duarte was plowing his wheat field in Tehama County, California, when a government inspector accused him of “deep ripping” the land and violating the Clean Water Act, which declares seasonal “vernal pools” to be “wetlands.” So according to the government, Duarte needed a permit to farm his land, but the farmer, who also runs a nursery business, said he received no such notice. The government prosecuted Duarte and their expert witness claimed the furrows were “small mountain ranges.” Turns out, they were five inches deep, but the government is still coming after Mr. Duarte and wants to hit him with $2.8 million in fines.
Supporters of Mr. Duarte are waiting to see if the EPA under Scott Pruitt will drop the case and scale back the regulatory zealotry of the previous administration. As Mr. Duarte’s lawyer Anthony Francois of the Pacific Legal Foundation told reporters, “The more of your property – your land – that the government considers to be their water, the more you’re at risk of falling afoul of something like this.” As it happens, the EPA is more about attacking property rights and shaking down property owners than actually protecting the environment.
In 2015, the EPA was responsible for releasing three million gallons of contaminated wastewater into the Animas River. This unleashed 880,000 pounds of lead, arsenic and other toxic materials for dozens of miles through southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico. The EPA’s alleged vigilance also did nothing to prevent the Flint water crisis but despite both disasters EPA boss Gina McCarthy kept her job. And as we noted, the EPA has not exactly been forthcoming about what it does with the $6.3 billion it has collected from lawsuits and settlements since 1990. As it happens, the EPA lacks any meaningful accountability. For example, EPA “policy advisor” John Beale claimed to be working for the CIA and pulled off this ruse for nearly 20 years, bilking taxpayers for nearly $1 million and even gaining “retention bonuses.”
President Trump’s EPA boss Scott Pruitt is not short of clean-up projects. He should drop the case against John Duarte, eliminate all regulations that disrespect property rights, and tell the worst zealots: “you’re fired.” That will certify that needed reforms are indeed taking place.