John Duarte, a farmer in Tehama County, California, is facing a $2.8 million fine and a federal trial for plowing his field without a permit.
One of Duerte’s lawyers, Anthony Francois, told USA Today the case could establish a precedent requiring farmers to obtain costly permits to plant crops on privately-owned land.
Duerte’s troubles began in 2012 when he hired a worker to plow 450 acres of land he’d just purchased. The contractor plowed the land, hitting some vernal pools that existed on it, cuasing minimal damage to the pools themselves, Duerte told USA Today.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, vernal pools are classified as wetlands and thus protected by the Clean Water Act from “the discharge of dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States.”
A permit from the Army Corps of Engineers is usually required before any action that risks polluting U.S. waters can be taken. Farming is exempted from this, however.
Even so, the Army Corps of Engineers sent a cease and desist order to Duerte in 2013, alleging he “discharged dredge or fill material into … waters of the United States,” according to court documents.
Duerte sued the Army Corps of Engineers for violating his right to due process. The act sparked a counter suit by the Army of Engineers against Duerte and a legal battle that Francois believes may be settled in the Supreme Court.