Wyoming man wins EPA fine fight

Wyoming Man Facing $16 M In Fines Fights EPA Over A Pond On Private Land And Wins

A man in Wyoming successfully fought with EPA over an artificial pond on his property and won. He was battling the agency over a hefty $16 million in accumulated fines.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has settled a two-year long battle with Andy Johnson, of Fort Bridger, who had built an artificial pond on his property in Uinta County. The EPA had threatened Johnson with $37,500 a day fine until he restored the land. Incidentally, Johnson hadn’t created the pond for recreational purposes or as a landscaping project. He created the rather small 40-by-300 foot pond to ensure his livestock had water to drink, reported the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle News.

A short while after construction of the pond was completed, EPA threatened Johnson with civil and criminal penalties. The EPA insisted that Johnson needed an explicit clearance from the agency, but since he had proceeded to build the pond without seeking the necessary approvals, he was now liable to a $37,500 a day fine until the time he didn’t restore the land. Interestingly, Johnson had sought and received a legitimate state permit to build the pond on his nine-acre property. The pond was replenished by a natural stream.

In response to the harassment, Pacific Legal Foundation had filed a lawsuit in 2015 on behalf of rancher Andy Johnson. The lawsuit sought to offer vindication of Johnson’s property rights. The case was won on a simple and clear provision in the federal laws regarding artificial ponds. The lawsuit noted that federal law clearly exempts EPA Wyoming stock ponds from the federal rules. Johnson’s legal team, who offered their services for free, maintained that the threats by the EPA were illegal due to the fact that stock ponds like Johnson’s are exempt from the Clean Water Act.

The legal team further noted that the pond was a sanctuary. The artificial lake helped the area rather than hurt it, reported Billings Gazette. The pond allowed the creation of new wetlands and habitats for wildlife and fish, besides offering a safe drinking option to the animals on Johnson’s ranch, shared Jonathan Wood, Johnson’s attorney with PLF on the case, who was citing Ray Kagel, a former federal regulator,

“The EPA never identified any environmental problems with the pond. In fact, it’s been a boom for the environment.”

The threats issued by the EPA were completely uncalled for, continued Wood.

“Obviously he has unfairly suffered for the past two or three years with these illegal EPA threats, demanding that he rip out his pond, threatening him with tens of millions of dollars in fines, and really putting his property and his family’s financial future at risk. The settlement gets rid of all of that, that risk and all of the threats. This is a victory for common sense and the environment, and it brings an end to all the uncertainty and fear that the Johnson family faced.”

Interestingly, Wood’s sentiments were echoed by both of Wyoming’s senators, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, who openly criticized the EPA’s compliance order with a letter that read:

“EPA appears more interested in intimidating and bankrupting Mr. Johnson than it does in working cooperatively with him.”

The EPA may have lost the legal battle; however, it has mandated Johnson to respect nature. He will have to plant willow trees around the pond and erect a partial fence to “control livestock.” In exchange, the rancher won’t have to destroy the pond and all the fines have been waived off. Moreover, all the enforcement actions based on the pond’s construction will cease with immediate effect.

Johnson says this case offers hope to others who have been facing such legal and enforcement battles. Interestingly, the EPA still insists the Wyoming water body isn’t a pond, but is being asked to exempt it as long as the rancher adds to the environmental benefits to the ones he has already created, reported News Oxy.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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