In already tough economic times, confusing environmental laws can mean even greater challenges for producers. Navigating the intricacies of environmental laws can leave farmers and ranchers in perilous positions. A more balanced approach to environmental regulations was the topic of a workshop last week at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting.
“Environmental law can be harsh, especially for everyday people,” said Jonathan Wood, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation. “The statutes are very broad, vague, and punitive. Pacific Legal Foundation and Farm Bureau are advocating for more sensible policies to protect landowners.”
Despite assurances of exemptions for agriculture, farmers and ranchers have repeatedly been intimidated by the punitive nature of large fines and potential prison sentences for actions involving water – even when such projects have beneficial impacts for wildlife and the environment. Wood noted the case of Andy Johnson, a rancher from Wyoming who created a stock pond to provide water for his livestock.
“We are challenging an outrageous example of EPA overreach against a private citizen who has done nothing wrong,” Wood said. “Andy Johnson constructed a pond for his livestock by damming a stream on his private property with no connection to any navigable water. Under the plain terms of the Clean Water Act, he was entirely within his rights, and didn’t need federal bureaucrats’ permission.”
In addition to the threat posed by fines and the breadth of impacts environmental rules can have, Wood says the vagueness of these rules and their interpretations by agencies will continue to pose a challenge to agriculture until the courts or Congress provide further guidance. Wood is hopeful that current and future cases will continue to balance the scale with landowners and agency actions.