David and Goliath, Wyoming style: Lone rancher takes on the EPA

Out in western Wyoming, cattle, oil and tourists are the main sources of income; and even with a town job it’s a tough place to make a life.

But one welder by the name of Andy Johnson is building a cow-calf operation on a small ranch out from town. Unfortunately the EPA didn’t like the way he was doing it. After many stern letters and warnings of imminent action, the EPA’s lawyers told him they were going to fine him $37,500 per day until he complied with their orders.

Mr. Johnson respectfully disagreed with the government. After several meetings he dug in his heels and got his own lawyers, and with assistance from the Pacific Legal Foundation, he resisted the EPA’s actions.

The issue was a stock pond Johnson had built to water his small herd of cattle. He had obtained a permit from the state of Wyoming, but with the recent legislation redefining the waters of the USA, The EPA thought it had jurisdiction. But since The EPA rules specifically exempted stock ponds, Johnson had not gone to them for a permit. The EPA claimed jurisdiction and ordered Johnson to restore the area to its original condition. They called the materials he used to build the dam “dredged material” and pollutants which were contaminating the water downstream.

Though a working man trying to build a family farm, he found a way to get the lawyers he needed to contest the legal issues. He also hired an environmental consultant, a former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers enforcement officer named Ray Kagel Jr.. He concluded that the pond offered “quite a few environmental benefits.” The sand, gravel, building blocks, and clay used to build it were actually natural filters, and testing showed the water downstream was three times cleaner than it was upstream. In addition, the pond was now a natural waterfowl and fish habitat that provides water for eagles, heron, moose and other wildlife.

So Johnson filed a lawsuit and the EPA eventually agreed to drop the case.

It’s a bittersweet victory, according to the New York Times. They say that Johnson sold off most of his livestock to pay for legal costs and environmental studies. All that’s left are one steer, a donkey and a Shetland pony to drink from their own watering hole.

Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis calls this “a federal overreach in the most egregiously ugly way”. Yea, we’d say so too. How about reining those folks in a little, Congress?   Or at least buy Johnson a few head of cattle to replace the ones he had to sell to fight off the bureaucrats.

Previously published on The Western View by AgNet West.

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