California farmer John Duarte could be facing a $2.8 million fine—and may be ordered to pay millions more in wetlands mitigation—for an offense he describes thusly: "Planting wheat in a wheat field," something he says had been done many times previously. Duarte has been fighting legal battles since 2012, when he hired someone to plow 450 acres of land he had purchased near Red Bluff in central California, USA Today reports. Because the area included wetlands, the US Army Corps of Engineers ordered work to stop and sued Duarte for failing to obtain a permit and for allegedly carrying out "deep ripping" that went as far as 3 feet down, disturbing waters considered to be "waters of the United States" under federal regulations.
A Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer says this is the first case he knows of where a farmer had to get a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to grow crops. "We're not going to produce much food under those kinds of regulations," he says. Federal prosecutors say Duarte violated the Clean Water Act because his activities deposited dirt into wetland streams. The case is scheduled to go to trial in August, though Duarte says the Trump administration has made it clear it considers the rule involved to be "dead," the Modesto Bee reports. He says unless the case is dropped, he will take it to the highest court possible to make sure other farmers aren't "shaken down by government agencies." (Meanwhile, a study finds that it is indeed possible to grow potatoes on Mars.)