House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conway and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte are pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions to drop a $2.8 billion case leveled against a California farmer for plowing his land.
According to Politico’s Morning Agriculture, the lawmakers sent a joint letter to Sessions Friday demanding justification from the Department of Justice on why the agency is pursuing a case that both congressmen believe has no merit and could negatively affect farmers across the country.
“The prosecution of Mr. Duarte raises concerns that the Congressional intent behind the farming exemptions in the statute is misunderstood,” the letter said. “Specifically, it is the Agriculture Committee’s view that even occasional farm activities, including grazing, qualify as ‘normal’ farming under the statutory exemption, and also are part of an established operation for purposes of the exemption. Further, it is the Committee’s view that the activity at issue in this case constitutes plowing for the purposes of the exemption.”
The US Army Corps of Engineers fined Duarte Nursery, owned by John Duarte, in 2012 for failing to get a permit before plowing through vernal pools located on a recently purchased 450 acre plot of land. The vernal pools, temporary bodies of water that house certain species of plants and animals, are protected as waters of the United States by the Clean Water Act of 1972.
The Corps contended that Duarte had violated the Clean Water Act by “discharging dredge or fill material” into the pools, according to court documents.
Duarte has argued that harming the vernal pools on his property without a permit is exempted as a farming activity under the Clean Water Act. (RELATED: Feds Fine Farmer $2.8 Million For ‘Deep Ripping’ Of Farmland)
Duarte’s case is scheduled to come to trial August. Depending on the outcome, Duarte’s lawyer told USA Today that the court could set a precedent of requiring farmers to obtain permits every time they plow near a protected body of water.
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