Farmers and Ranchers May Sue to Stop Clean Water Regulation of Ordinary Farmland
A unanimous Supreme Court today ruled landowners may challenge the federal government whenever the Army Corps of Engineers tries improperly to regulate land with regulations designed to protect water.
Landowners have attempted many times to challenge Corps rulings known as jurisdictional determinations, but the government successfully argued that those determinations were not “final agency actions” and the lawsuits were dismissed. Now, when the Corps asserts jurisdiction over low spots that look more like land than water, it will have to do so with the knowledge that its jurisdictional determination can be tested in court.
“The Montana Farm Bureau and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox have worked very hard over the past two years to oppose the Water of the U.S Rule, which we saw as a huge infringement on private property rights,” said MFBF President Bob Hanson. “Attorney General Fox filed an amicus brief on this case, and at every step of the way, Farm Bureau has been working with our Congressional delegation to stop the Environmental Protections Association’s overreach of power. Although the win in this case doesn’t eliminate WOTUS, it does give farmers, ranchers and other landowners a way to fight back.”
American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall noted, “Today’s decision removes a huge roadblock that has prevented landowners from obtaining relief from the courts when the Corps illegally claims their land is federally regulated water. Now, farmers and ranchers can have their day in court when the government tells them they cannot plow a field or improve a ditch without a federal permit.”
AFBF filed amicus curiae briefs in the lower court and the Supreme Court in support of the plaintiffs who were represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation. The case was titled United States Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., Inc.
Today’s ruling builds on another unanimous ruling, Sackett v. EPA. The Court today recognized that once the Corps finds that a landscape feature is a “water of the United States,” there are immediate and often dire legal consequences to the landowner. A farmer can continue a farming activity that results in an unlawful discharge and face an enforcement action with civil fines up to $37,500 a day per discharge, or even criminal penalties. Or, the farmer can spend tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars seeking federal Clean Water Act permits over several years only to have the permit ultimately denied.
Information and article credit to: Ag News Wire http://mfbf.org/ag-newswire/2016/06/farm-bureau-hails-supreme-court-victory/