A farmer in Albany, Oregon owns 50 acres of land along the North Santiam River, and he wanted to stabilize the banks there by placing large rocks on his land near the river. He consulted with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who told him that the stabilization project didn't fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act because the rocks wouldn't be placed into the water. Enter the EPA:
Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed a complaint against Bill Case of Albany, Ore., for unlawfully stabilizing a riverbank with large rocks beginning in 2009.
The EPA is seeking up to $37,500 per day in civil penalties as well as a court order requiring Case to restore the bank of the North Santiam River to its original condition.
In his answer to EPA’s complaint, Case argues the agency’s lawsuit is barred because of his “reasonable reliance on representations by the United States Army Corps of Engineers” that the work didn’t require a Clean Water Act permit.
In the good old days, EPA could get away with this sort of thing administratively because another of their administrative rules barred any appeal or legal recourse. That changed a couple of years ago when they tried to pull this on some folks in Montana who had obtained all of the necessary permits to build a house on their land after having had experts assess the area. Construction was underway when EPA swooped in and declared the couple's property a wetland. They demanded that the couple demolish the home and restore the site to its original condition or face fines of $37,500 per day.
They picked the wrong couple; these people had money, and they took EPA to court despite the agency's contention that they couldn't do so because EPA had an administrative rule that said they couldn't. EPA lost. They appealed, and lost again.
In the end, it went before the U.S. Supreme Court, where EPA got more (for them) bad news:
Under a legal precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court, defendants have the right for a jury to decide whether or not an activity violates the Clean Water Act.
Farmer Case is asking for a jury trial. Just a few years ago, that wouldn't have been an option, as few people have the money required to battle the EPA all the way up to the SCOTUS level.