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Pacific Legal Foundation PRESS RELEASE

New Fund Will Aid Family Farmer’s Defense Against Abusive Clean Water Act Regulators

Massachusetts case is a watershed battle against federal control of private property nationwide

CARVER, MA; March 9, 2009: Pacific Legal Foundation announced today the formal launch of the "Charlie Johnson Legal Defense Fund," to help a Massachusetts farmer fighting a federal land grab with implications for private property owners across the country.

Charlie Johnson is a 78-year-old Korean War veteran and cranberry farmer who has been hit with massive fees and fines by regulators who wrongly claim the Clean Water Act gives the federal government control over his land – and by extension, over any farmland and other private property, nationwide, where as little as a pond, puddle, or irrigation ditch might be located.

In his fight against this federal power grab, Johnson is represented by PLF attorneys, free of charge. PLF is America’s leading legal watchdog for property rights and a balanced approach to environmental regulations. "I am so grateful to PLF," said Johnson. "Federal officials have been intimidating me with unreasonable wetland rules to shut down part of my cranberry farm. My family and I have decided we’re not going to give in – but we wouldn’t be able to fight without PLF’s indispensable help."

Johnson lives with his wife in rural Carver, about 50 miles south of Boston. He and his son Van are carrying on the family tradition: The Johnson family has been farming their land since the 1920s.

After decades of growing cranberries, the Johnsons were stunned five years ago when the Environmental Protection Agency persuaded a court to fine them $75,000 and order more than $1 million in mitigation costs. The Johnsons’ "offense"? They shored up some bogs on their land, and built some new ones – without seeking federal approval.

"The EPA’s assault on Charlie Johnson is a misuse of the Clean Water Act, and is part of a government effort to use the Clean Water Act to regulate, potentially, every local pond, puddle, or ditch on private property," said PLF attorney, Ted Hadzi-Antich, lead attorney representing Mr. Johnson and his family.

The EPA is violating a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that curbed federal regulatory power under the Clean Water Act, according to PLF attorneys. In Rapanos v. U.S. (a PLF case), the Court said the Clean Water Act applied only to land where federal regulators could show a direct flow of water from the land to a navigable river, lake, or ocean.

"Federal regulators are trying to make Charlie Johnson pay crippling fees and fines, but they have offered no credible evidence of any environmental harm whatsoever from Charlie’s cranberry farming," said Hadzi-Antich. "The regulators want to punish Charlie and his family without offering scientifically or technically supportable proof, in direct defiance of the Supreme Court’s Rapanos decision," said Hadzi-Antich. Although the Johnson Defense Fund will be available for a variety of PLF property rights cases, its main purpose will be to support the significant costs involved in litigating Charlie Johnson’s case.

"This defense fund is important because Charlie Johnson’s case can set a precedent, one way or the other, for property owners nationwide," said PLF attorney, Damien Schiff, co-counsel in the case. "In a real sense, Charlie Johnson is the canary in the coal mine. If federal regulators are allowed to be a law unto themselves, ignoring legal limits on their power, the Johnsons won’t be the last victims. All landowners and homeowners will be at risk, sooner or later."

Charlie knows that the stakes are high. "Federal regulators are running a campaign against farmers," said Schiff. "Their strategy is to force you to give up or bankrupt you." To learn more about the Charlie Johnson Legal Defense Fund, or to contribute, visit PLF’s Web site: www.pacificlegal.org.

About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation ( www.pacificlegal.org ) is the oldest and most successful public interest legal organization that litigates for property rights, limited government, and a balanced approach to environmental protection, in courts across the country. 

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