E.P.A. FINES FAMILY: $16MIL for Having a Pond on Their Property, Now the Family is Fighting Back

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 9.06.16 AMSorry, why is the EPA still in business? Didn’t they just dump a bunch of toxins in a natural water source?

FORT BRIDGER, Wyo. — The sun was sinking and the brook trout were biting, so Andy Johnson and his daughter Aspen, 6, stepped onto their sun-bleached 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 of as much as $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.”

Read more: NY Times

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