California Farmer Takes Clean Water Act Legal Fight to the Political Arena
Lobbyist, and former Republican Representative, Richard Pombo, has been retained by a California nursery owner facing a potential multi-million dollar fine for violating the Clean Water Act. Nursery owner, John Duarte of Duarte Nursery has retained the Washington, D.C. lobby to help fight his lengthy dispute with federal officials. Simultaneously, Mr. Duarte is facing a high profile trial that will soon determine what penalty he may have to pay for disturbing vernal pool wetlands. Duarte’s attorney from the Pacific Legal Foundation hopes the judge dismisses the case or orders a nominal penalty.
In short, the Army Corps of Engineers argues that in 2012 Duarte unlawfully filled vernal pool wetlands when one of his worker’s plowed a Sacramento Valley parcel while preparing to plant wheat. While Mr. Duarte was not controlling the tractor, Judge Mueller of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District found that Mr. Duarte was liable because as the nursery’s president, he had “authority over the tillage operations without actually operating the equipment”. The penalty phase is set to begin August 15, 2017 and the Army Corps is seeking $2.8 million in fines, as well as the purchase of mitigation acres. While the Justice Department has argued that Duarte knew consequences could result from his actions, Duarte’s attorneys deny this and note that the imposition of such extraordinary penalties could ruin the company, its employees, and Mr. Duarte’s family.
With the Court’s penalty decision approaching, Mr. Duarte is also strategizing politically. He made campaign contributions to Trump’s presidential bid and other Republican candidates, as well as the recent hiring of Pombo. The former chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Pombo has built a lobbying practice under the name Gavel Resources. Since Mr. Duarte retained Gavel Resources, Mr. Duarte has met on Capitol Hill with sympathetic staffers for Representative Doug La Malfa (R-Calif.) and Senator Jodi Ernst (R-Iowa). In May, Republican Representatives Mike Conaway of Texas (Chair of the House Agriculture Committee) and Bob Goodlatte of Virginia (Chair of the House Judiciary Committee) wrote to the Justice Department to urge its reconsideration of the case against Mr. Duarte.