E & E News | Politico

Farmers Challenge ‘Swampbuster’ Law for Locking up Their Land

April 17, 2024

(E & E News | Politico)—Conservative lawyers are asking a federal court to strike down a wetlands conservation law that they say unconstitutionally blocks farmers from using their property without compensating them for their loss.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, CTM Holdings, a company that manages more than 1,000 acres of Hawkeye State farmland, contends that the federal government has illegally designated a portion of its property as wetlands and excluded it from development—even though the land is dry.

“While well-intentioned, this conservation scheme is unconstitutional,” said Loren Seehase, senior counsel at the Liberty Justice Center, which is representing CTM Holdings in the litigation. “The government cannot condition benefits on the waiver of a constitutional right— n this case, the Fifth Amendment right to be compensated when the government takes some or all of your land.”

Under the “Swampbuster” program—a provision of the 1985 farm bill—the Department of Agriculture withholds benefits from farmers who clear, drain or otherwise convert wetlands.

CTM Holdings, which rents land to Iowa farmers, says that because of the Swampbuster program, the company and its tenants have been barred from farming 9 acres of a 71-acre parcel in a northeastern Iowa county.

If they do develop that land, the Liberty Justice Center said in a press release accompanying the lawsuit, CTM Holdings and all its other tenants across the state could risk losing their USDA benefits.

The Liberty Justice Center—which is involved in another high-profile environmental lawsuit against the Biden administration’s corporate climate disclosure rule—is joined in the Swampbuster case by the property rights-focused Pacific Legal Foundation.

Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys have backed major landowner challenges at the Supreme Court, including Sackett v. EPA, a case that last year eliminated protections for the majority of the nation’s wetlands.

“The Constitution does not grant the federal government the power to regulate any piece of land in the country it wishes,” said Paige Gilliard, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, of the Swampbuster lawsuit. “Nor may government force people to give up their rights in exchange for a government benefit.”

USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The Izaak Walton League, a conservation organization that has called for more consistent enforcement of the Swampbuster program, estimates that the law has protected about 78 million acres of U.S. wetlands.