Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

National Wildlife Fed'n v. Agricultural Stabilization & Conservation Serv.

ELR Citation: 21 ELR 21474
Nos. No. 90-5483, 941 F.2d 667/(8th Cir., 08/08/1991)

In the first reported decision applying the 1990 Farm Bill amendments in a Swampbuster case, the court vacates a district court's preamendment finding of a blanket good-faith exemption to ineligibility from farm subsidies and programs for converting wetlands because the amended Swampbuster enforcement provisions apply retroactively and now explicitly provide such a good-faith exemption. In early 1985, 14 Minnesota farmers petitioned their local watershed district for a permit to drain 85 acres of prairie wetlands. The 1985 Farm Bill, enacted in December 1985, prohibited farmers from draining wetlands on penalty of losing farm program benefits, except for certain exemptions. The farmers subsequently sought one of the exemptions known as a commenced determination, which would allow them to drain the wetlands if their project had been commenced prior to the creation of the Swampbuster program. After the county Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) committee determined that the farmers had not commenced the drainage project prior to enactment of Swampbuster, the farmers appealed to the state ASCS committee, which reversed the county committee. After the farmers completed the drainage project, the deputy administrator reversed the state ASCS committee's ruling and denied the exemption, but granted the farmers relief from ineligibility for relying on the state committee's ruling. Environmental groups brought this action in the district court under the Administrative Procedure Act challenging ASCS' authority to grant such relief, and the district court upheld the administrator's ruling as not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion.

The court first holds that the environmental groups have standing because the affidavits submitted by the groups' members establish, sufficient to withstand summary judgment, that they were adversely affected or aggrieved by the ASCS' action. Members alleged they had recreational, aesthetic, hunting, and professional interests in the wetlands that were converted.

The court next rules that both the newly enacted Swampbuster amendments and the legislative history express Congress' intent that the new sanction provisions of Swampbuster apply retroactively. First, the language of the amendments clearly contemplates a retroactive application. If the ineligibility for price supports and programs is the result of the conversion of a wetland subsequent to the date of enactment of the amendments, or the production of an agricultural commodity on a converted wetland subsequent to the enactment of the original Swampbuster, then less drastic graduated sanctions are provided. In addition, the amendment language provides that postamendment conversion triggers the ineligibility provisions. Thus, the availability in the amendments of provision for modifying complete ineligibility for violations that occurred prior to enactment of the 1990 amendments evidences Congress' intent that the provisions apply retroactively. Reaching this conclusion, the court holds that it cannot dispose of the case, since imposition of the new exemption would be markedly different than the blanket good-faith exemption determined by the ASCS. Rather, the new exemption only reduces the amount of ineligibility, and only if the farmer is actively restoring the wetland under an agreement entered into with the ASCS, the farmer has not violated Swampbuster within the past 10 years, and converted the wetland in good faith without the intent to violate Swampbuster provisions. The court thus vacates the judgment of the district court and remands with instructions that it be further remanded to the Secretary of Agriculture for application of the new law.

Counsel for Appellants
Anthony Turrini
National Wildlife Federation
1605 E. Capitol Ave., Bismark ND 58501
(701) 222-2442

Counsel for Appellee
Lonnie Bryan, Ass't U.S. Attorney
234 U.S. Courthouse, 110 S. 4th St., Minneapolis MN 55401
(612) 348-1433

Before WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge, FLOYD R. GIBSON, Senior Circuit Judge, and BEAM, Circuit Judge.