LaMalfa Rallies Agriculture and Judiciary Chairmen to Help Protect Northern California Farming Rights

May 26, 2017
Press Release
Washington, DC) – Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) issued the following statement after, upon Rep. LaMalfa’s request, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging a review of the Department of Justice’s decision to prosecute a court case involving California farmer John Duarte.
 
Under the Sacramento Districts interpretation of Clean Water Act (CWA) that mirrors the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, farmer John Duarte is facing $2.8 million in penalties for plowing his fields. The EPA and Army Corps claim the depressions on his farmland 11 miles from the Sacramento River are considered WOTUS, thus subject to CWA regulations. After meeting with Duarte in Northern California, Rep. LaMalfa personally called upon the chairmen to take action in asking the Administration to weigh in on this overreach.
 
LaMalfa said: “I’ve met with Mr. Duarte and personally visited the farmland in question. To classify his five-inch furrows as ‘miniature mountain ranges’ is laughable. Unfortunately, this is no laughing matter for John Duarte and the many other farmers who face similar fines and penalties around the country. Under the previous Administration, the EPA severely overstepped their authority and their regulations are preventing farmers from simply plowing their fields and using their land. If WOTUS goes into full effect, this will be the new normal. I urged the Chairmen to take action, and I appreciate their swift response in doing so. The Administration needs to look into this matter and help protect property owners from these excessive regulations.”
 
Full text of the letter is below:
 
May 26, 2017

The Honorable Jeff Sessions              
Attorney General of the United States          
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW         
Washington, D.C. 20530
 
Dear Attorney General Sessions:
 
As Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary (“Committees”), we have been following the case of Duarte Nursery v. Army Corps of Engineers very closely. As you may know, the interpretations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and its farming exemptions are critical to farmers and ranchers across the nation and, thus, are of particular interest to the Agriculture Committee, especially given the Committee’s jurisdiction over agriculture generally. The Judiciary Committee’s oversight responsibilities include ensuring that the Justice Department enforces the law as Congress intended.
 
The prosecution of Mr. Duarte raises concerns that the Congressional intent behind the farming exemptions in the statute is misunderstood. 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 constitute plowing for the purposes of the exemption.
 
To better understand the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) process for prosecuting potential violations of the CWA and in order to determine whether or not legislation is required to correct potential misinterpretations of the law, the Committees request the following information:
 
  • What does the DOJ consider in determining whether or not to prosecute a violation of the CWA?
  • Is it appropriate to seek reduced penalties where the alleged violation is based on a novel or strained interpretation of the underlying statutory authority?
  • Have there been any cases where DOJ has entered into contingent settlements pending an appeal of a CWA case? If so, please describe the circumstances of those cases.
  • Has DOJ ever declined on appeal to advance CWA arguments that were successful at the district court level? If so, please describe the circumstances of those cases.
 
If you have any questions about this request, please contact Agriculture Committee staff at (202) 225-2171 and the Judiciary Committee at (202) 225-3951.
 
Sincerely,
 
K. Michael Conaway                                                             
Chairman        
House Committee on Agriculture      
 
Bob Goodlatte           
Chairman
House Committee on the Judiciary          
 
Congressman Doug LaMalfa is a lifelong farmer representing California’s First Congressional District, including Butte, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou and Tehama Counties.
 
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