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Congressional Committee takes up Duarte plowing case: Calls on US Attorney General to explain “DOJ Overreach”

NOTE: Scroll to bottom for links to Wine Industry Insight’s complete coverage of this issue which will affect all vineyards and other agricultural land use.

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Press release | May 26, 2017

Goodlatte, Conaway Call on Attorney General to Evaluate DOJ Overreach in Prosecuting WOTUS Violations

Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling for a review of the legal theory underlying the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to prosecute a California court case alleging violations under the Clean Water Act (CWA) – directly related to both the statutory exemptions for farming and the Obama Administration’s waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.


The letter requests information about DOJ’s process for prosecuting violations of the CWA, citing specific concerns about the case of Duarte Nursery v. Army Corps of Engineers. In the letter, the chairmen note Congressional concerns that the theory underlying the prosecution is “not consistent with legislative intent behind the farming exemptions under the CWA.” The letter also seeks to clarify whether a legislative fix is required to protect farmers, such as California farmer John Duarte, from similar prosecution in the future.


Chairman Goodlatte: “The regulatory overreach of the previous administration is having a negative impact on the lives of hardworking Americans. Congress made its intentions of how the Clean Water Act was to be applied for the health and safety of Americans, but the Obama Administration has twisted law to serve a political agenda. We will work with President Trump and the new administration to reverse Obama-era regulations that are hurting American farmers, as well as other industries, and private citizens alike.”


Chairman Conaway: “Mr. Duarte’s case clearly highlights the need to keep the federal government out of America’s backyards, fields and ditches. Little-by-little we watched the previous administration chip away at the rights of land and property-owners, aiming to expand its authority through broad new rules under WOTUS, all while providing little clarity to farmers and ranchers about what qualifies for exemptions. Our letter aims to work with the new administration to better define current interpretations of both WOTUS and farming exemptions so we can begin to set new rules of the road that will protect our farmers and ranchers from onerous fines, penalties and regulations.”


Background: Mr. Duarte’s case stems from a February 2013 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) allegation that the vernal pools on Mr. Duarte’s land are considered WOTUS, thus subject to CWA authority. The Corps argued that based on inconsistent agriculture production patterns on Mr. Duarte’s land prior to his purchase in 2012 he did not qualify for farming exemptions and had violated the CWA when he plowed his field in late 2012


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Previous Wine Industry Insight Coverage

Duarte vs U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Clean Water Act & WOTUS Issues