By Mark Miller
In 1972, Congress passed what became known as the Clean Water Act to protect the navigable waters of the United States. The law prohibits discharging pollutants into those navigable waters without a permit or exemption.
The water the Army Corps of Engineers discharges into the St. Lucie River contains pollutants. The Treasure Coast has known about this pollution for years, but the entire country came face-to-face with it this summer because the green slime befouling our river brought us unwanted national media attention.
Neither the corps, nor any other governmental agency, secured a permit for these pollutant discharges.
Likewise, the Clean Water Act contains no exemption for the corps’ discharges. Yet the so-called Environmental Protection Agency and the corps apparently excuse themselves from following the law that you and I must follow, premised on the false argument that they have no other choice.
We have navigable waters, and the federal government pollutes these navigable waters every day.
So where are the consequences?
Regular Americans face legal consequences for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act all the time. Why are the federal bureaucrats in charge of these apparent violations not facing similar consequences?
These violations of the Clean Water Act would lead to prosecutions if private citizens were the polluters, and in fact the government has tried to prosecute much less in the past.
For example, in 2012, a Wyoming farmer named Andy Johnson erected a small dam on a stream that ran across his property to create a stock pond to provide more reliable and safer access to water for his animals. Wetlands sprang up around the pond. The stock pond provided a scarce, quality habitat for fish and a water source for wildlife, including a bald eagle. By allowing the water to pool before proceeding downstream, the pond cleaned the water that passed through it.
For Johnson’s trouble of creating a small pond, the feds threatened him with fines of up to $37,500 per day because the EPA contended the way he constructed the pond on his property amounted to a discharge into waters of the United States, and he did not have a permit to do so. By the time he got to court, Johnson faced millions of dollars in fines.
Meanwhile, here on the Treasure Coast, the corps pollutes the St. Lucie River with an overloaded amalgamation of phosphorous, nitrogen and toxic algae-laden water, killing plant life, animal life and businesses that call the St. Lucie River home. The corps does this without a permit, yet faces absolutely no consequences. And that’s just one comparison.
A few years before the Johnson case, John Rapanos, a businessman and land owner in Michigan, faced prison because the federal government accused him of discharging into waters of the United States without a permit in violation of the Clean Water Act.