A Wyoming rancher facing $20 million in fines for building a stock pond on his property has settled his lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency in a deal that allows him to keep his watering hole and his money.
In a case that drew national attention, the EPA ordered Andy Johnson in January 2014 to tear out the pond or pay $37,500 per day in fines for what the agency described as a violation of the Clean Water Act, even though stock ponds are exempt from the federal law and he had obtained the necessary state and local permits.
In a settlement agreement announced Monday, Mr. Johnson agreed to plant willow trees and temporarily limit livestock access on a portion of the pond in what his attorneys described as “a win for the Johnson family and a win for the environment.”
Mr. Johnson had accumulated more than $20 million in fines while fighting the agency’s order, but under the settlement, “the Johnsons will pay no fine,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Jonathan Wood.
“They will not lose their property. They will not have to agree to federal jurisdiction or a federal permit, which would have surely entailed onerous conditions,” said Mr. Wood in a statement. “In effect, the government will treat the pond as an exempt stock pond, in exchange for Andy further improving on the environmental benefits he has already created.”
Mr. Johnson, who runs a small 8-acre horse and cattle ranch in Fort Bridger, Wyoming, called it “a huge victory for us as well as private property owners across the country.”
“The next family that finds itself in our situation, facing ominous threats from the EPA, can take heart in knowing that many of these threats will not come to pass,” said Mr. Johnson in a statement. “If, like us, you stand up to the overreaching bureaucrats, they may very well back down.”
Mr. Johnson sued the EPA last year after the agency refused to withdraw its compliance order even after he commissioned a report from environmental experts concluding that the pond was exempt and provided numerous benefits, such as habitat for migratory birds, fish and wildlife.
Also involved in Mr. Johnson’s case were the Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver and the Budd-Falen law firm in Cheyenne.
EPA officials have said that they were trying to resolve the issue with Mr. Johnson.
“This agreement is the result of constructive dialogue between EPA and Mr. Johnson to resolve compliance issues identified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2012,” EPA spokesman Nick Conger said Monday in an email.
Mr. Johnson had wanted to litigate the case but agreed to the deal because it was “too good to refuse,” said Mr. Wood.
“And if we could say anything to the EPA … this was about more than just a pond. This was about a family of good, hard-working Americans that were willing to fight to the end for what they believed in!” said Mr. Johnson.