EPA & Clean Water
Nice little read
FORT BRIDGER, Wyo. — The sun was sinking and the brook trout were biting, so Andy Johnson and his 6-year-old daughter, Aspen, stepped onto their sun-bleached wooden pier, hooked some mealworms and cast their lines into the most infamous pond in the West.
It is just a splotch of placid water amid endless ripples of grazing land here in western Wyoming. But in the two years since Mr. Johnson dammed a small creek running through his front yard to create the pond, it has become an emblem for conservative groups and local governments that are fighting what Senator Michael B. Enzi called a “regulatory war” with the Obama administration over environmental issues ranging from water quality to gas drilling, coal power plants to sage grouse.
“It makes no sense whatsoever,” Mr. Johnson said, pointing at the waving grasses and birds pinwheeling around the water. “We have wetlands now. I really think the E.P.A. should be coming in and saying, ‘Good job.’”
The pond battle has pitted Mr. Johnson, a 32-year-old welder, part-time barbecue caterer and father of four girls, against a federal bureaucracy that is, in the best of times, grudgingly tolerated out here. It erupted after officials from the Environmental Protection Agency paid a visit to the pond and, Mr. Johnson said, told him that he was facing “a very serious matter.”
In a January 2014 violation notice, the agency said Mr. Johnson had violated the Clean Water Act by digging out Six Mile Creek and dumping in tons of river rocks without getting necessary federal permits. The agency ordered him to take steps to restore the creek under the supervision of environmental officials, or face accumulating fines of as much as $37,500 a day.
Mr. Johnson refused.
He argued that he had gotten full approvals from Wyoming officials, and said the federal government had no business using national water laws to make decisions about the creek that meanders through the family’s eight-acre property. Mr. Johnson and his wife, Katie, had spent $50,000 — most of their savings, they said — to create the pond to water their 10 head of cattle and four horses. Dismantling it now would be ruinously expensive and destroy what has become a tiny oasis for birds and wildlife, they said.
After more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations, the standoff veered into a federal courthouse last month when Mr. Johnson sued the E.P.A., asking a judge to declare his pond legal and wave away accumulating fines that could now reach $16 million.
“They have no right to be here,” Mr. Johnson said. “We’re law-abiding people. It makes your blood boil that they would come after you like that.”
The suit argues that the pond is exempt from the Clean Water Act because it was created to water stock. Further, it says the creek is too far removed from navigable rivers to fall under the E.P.A.’s authority.
The case has drawn support from conservative leaders around the state. Wyoming’s Republican senators, Mr. Enzi and John Barrasso, called the agency’s action “heavy-handed bureaucracy.”
“What did they do wrong?” Representative Cynthia M. Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, said in an interview, referring to the Johnsons. “What does the E.P.A. intend to gain? What wrong are they trying to right by imposing fines on these people?”
A libertarian legal group called the Pacific Legal Foundation began representing Mr. Johnson at no charge.
“We can’t have unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats ignoring the limits of their own authority,” said Jonathan Wood, a lawyer for the foundation. “There was no need for federal regulation here.”
In a statement, the E.P.A. said it had been “attempting to work cooperatively” with Mr. Johnson and added that it had not imposed any fines on him. The agency declined to say anything further, citing the lawsuit.
While the Johnsons watch trout jump in Wyoming, more than two dozen states and energy and farm groups are waging a similar fight, arguing that the E.P.A. went too far when it adopted a rule clarifying its authority to oversee smaller streams and wetlands. After 13 states sued, a federal judge in North Dakota temporarily blocked the new water rule from taking effect across much of the West.
But other states and many environmental groups have welcomed more federal control of state waters, saying that a confusing patchwork of rules had left small bodies of water vulnerable to pollution. In Wyoming, for example, some conservation groups criticized a state decision that reclassified thousands of miles of smaller streams to allow up to five times the level of E. coli bacteria.
States and landowners often argue that they are the ones best suited to preserve their own land and water. In Wyoming, officials point to requirements that drillers test for baseline groundwater quality, and to measures protecting sage grouse — rules that have been lauded by the Interior Department.
In Fort Bridger, Mr. Johnson points to his own pond. Since creating it, he and his family have seen blue herons and an eagle, moose and muskrat come to drink, and it is full of trout. (The Johnsons say they only catch and release.) Water flows in from the west, and out and back into the creek over a sloping spillway of river rocks that Mr. Johnson dumped into the channel.
A private report he commissioned found only positive environmental results. But the E.P.A.’s violation notice described the rocks, sand and concrete he used to create the dam and spillway as pollutants.
As the fight wore on, Mr. Johnson sold off most of his livestock to pay for legal costs and environmental studies. All that is left are one steer, a donkey and a Shetland pony to drink from their own private, bitterly contested watering hole
Re: EPA & Clean Water
Sorry about that Farmer Ted - I didn't see it down there - The cannonball has been down for the last 2 weeks - I think they said that Foyd was sick and they could find anybody to fill in till the other day , so we are a little behind on out news -
BTW Speaking of the devil - Want ah guess who stopped by last week ??? lol Hadn't seen him all summer