Recent Blog Posts

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, February 15th, 2018

A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators have introduced a bill to exempt agricultural producers from reporting requirements under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). We’ve reported previously on the new mandate that would require livestock operations to report air emissions, the result of a U.S. Court of Appeals decision last year that struck down the EPA’s rule that exempted agriculture from the reporting requirements. The U.S. EPA has repeatedly requested the court for a delay of the new reporting mandate, now delayed until after May 1, 2018. The proposed legislation would establish a new exemption that would protect farmers from the upcoming reporting mandate.

Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a primary sponsor of the legislation, stated that “[t]hese reporting requirements were designed to apply to industrial pollution and toxic chemicals, not animal waste on a farm or ranch.” Co-sponsor Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) assured farmers that requiring them to “spend their time and money on reports that will go unused by EPA would be burdensome and needless.”

The text of the senators’ proposed Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act, S. 2421, is available here. The proposal includes:

  • A statement that CERCLA reporting does not apply to air emissions from animal waste, including decomposing animal waste, at a farm.
  • A definition for “animal waste,” which means feces, urine, or other excrement, digestive emission, urea, or similar substances emitted by animals (including any form of livestock, poultry or fish), and including animal waste that is mixed or commingled with bedding, compost, feed, soil, or any other material typically found with such waste.
  • A definition of “farm,” which means a site or area (including associated structures) that is used for the production of a crop or the raising or selling of animals (including any form of livestock, poultry, or fish) and under normal conditions, produces during a farm year any agricultural products with a total value equal to not less than $1,000.
  • A statement that maintains the current exemption from CERCLA reporting for applications, storage and handling of registered pesticide products.

Senator Fischer introduced S.2421 on February 13 and the Senate has referred the bill to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Posted In: Environmental
Tags: CERCLA reporting, air emissions, EPA
Comments: 0
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, February 02nd, 2018

Here's a gathering of recent agricultural law news from OSU's Agricultural & Resource Law Program:

CERCLA air emissions reporting further delayed. The Circuit Court that ruled that farms are not exempt from air emissions reporting under CERCLA has delayed the starting date for farms to begin reporting until at least May 1, 2018. Hopefully, the additional time will bring more clarity to livestock operations that could be subject to the reporting requirements about how to determine ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions, two substances that could trigger the reporting requirement. Read more in our previous post or on the US EPA’s website.

WOTUS rule also delayed. The U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Army finalized a new rule on January 31, 2018 that would delay the effective date of the WOTUS rule to 2020. The rule, revised by the EPA in 2015 and tied up in litigation since then, has been on hold due to a stay ordered by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. That stay could be lifted as a result of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court holding that courts of appeal are not the proper forum for challenges to the rule. More on the court’s decision here and on the WOTUS rule here.

National Organic Program proposed rule comment period open. Amendments to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances allowed for organic production or handling are under consideration. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is taking comments on the proposed rule until March 19, 2018. More information is here.

Ohio invasive plants list revised. The Ohio Department of Agriculture has finalized a revised list of invasive plants that may not be sold or distributed in Ohio. The list of 36 plants is available here.

Agricultural fertilizer applicator certification exam now available. As a result of regulatory revisions, a producer who applies fertilizer to 50 acres of more of land in agricultural production may now meet Ohio’s certification requirement by passing a written exam rather than attending educational sessions. Exam locations and registration are here and OSU’s training manual is here.

Ohio legislation on the move:

  • Wind turbine setbacks. Senate Bill 238 proposes changes to the application process and setbacks for “economically significant” wind farms capable of generating five megawatts or more. Sponsored by Dolan (R-Chagin Falls). First hearing before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.
  • Riparian buffers. House Bill 460 would exempt qualifying riparian buffers in the Western Basin of Lake Erie from property taxation, reimburse local taxing units for their consequent loss of income and require soil and water conservation districts to assist landowners with establishing and maintaining riparian buffers. Sponsored by Patterson, (D-Jefferson) and Sheehy (D-Oregon). First hearing on January 30 before the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee.
  • Poultry and livestock on residential property. House Bill 175 would prevent county and township zoning authorities from prohibiting the keeping and breeding of chickens, fowl, goats, rabbits and similar small animals for noncommercial purposes on any residential property and would establish housing standards for such animals. Sponsored by Brinkman (R-Cincinnati). First hearing on January 30 before the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.
  • Apiary immunity. House Bill 392 would provide persons who register their apiaries with immunity from personal injuries resulting from bee stings. Read our post. Sponsored by Stein (R-Norwalk). Reported out of House Economic Development, Commerce & Labor Committee on January 23.
  • Alfalfa products. Senate Resolution 382 recognizes the existence of two alfalfa products in accordance with the Ingredient Definition Committee of the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Sponsored by LaRose (R-Hudson). Second hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee scheduled for February 6.
  • Barn as official state structure. House Bill 12 proposes designating the barn as the official historical architectural structure of Ohio. Passed House on 3/22/17, second hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee scheduled for February 6.
  • Idle wells. House Bill 225 revises Ohio’s idle and orphaned oil and gas well program. Read our post. Sponsored by Thompson (R-Marietta). Passed House on January 17, introduced in Senate on January 22.

Just introduced:

  • Labor camps. House Bill 490 proposes to exempt certain residential buildings from agricultural labor camp laws. Introduced in the House by Stein (R-Norwalk) on January 30.
  • Energy resources. House Concurrent Resolution 22 expresses support for the importance of Ohio’s energy resources and infrastructure in furthering Ohio’s economic development. Introduced in the House by Hill (R-Zanesville) on January 16.

For other agricultural and food law updates from around the country, check out the National Agricultural Law Center’s Ag & Food Law Blog.

Posted In:
Tags: ag law harvest
Comments: 0
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, January 25th, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this week in National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense that a federal district court is the proper forum for challenges to the substance of the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule. The holding brings clarification for parties raising similar types of challenges under the federal Clean Water Act, who often filed cases in both the district and appellate courts due to confusion over which court has jurisdiction over the cases. Litigants can now be sure that the case should originate with the federal district court, which provides greater access for similar challenges but could create more inconsistent rulings around the country. The court’s decision arrives at an odd time, with the evolving WOTUS landscape now focused on formulation of a new WOTUS rule to replace the rule that is under fire.

The court’s reasoning

The Supreme Court’s decision in this case is not surprising, a result of attention to the express language of the Clean Water Act rather than to several interpretations advanced by the government. The Clean Water Act places authority over Clean Water Act challenges in the federal district courts, with seven exceptions that are to be heard by the appellate courts. The federal government argued that two of those exceptions applied to its drafting of the WOTUS rule. The court disagreed, concluding that WOTUS does not establish an “effluent limitation” nor does it result in the issuance or denial of a permit as argued by the government. The court recognized that it would likely be more efficient and uniform for such challenges to be heard by an appellate court, but that would require a rewriting of the statute.

WOTUS uncertainty remains

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals with an order to dismiss the WOTUS petitions before that court, which consisted of all appellate cases challenging the rule that were previously transferred to the Sixth Circuit by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. Note that the Sixth Circuit had issued a nationwide stay of the WOTUS rule in 2015 pending determination of whether the rule was a valid exercise of agency authority. That stay will presumably disappear with the Sixth Circuit’s dismissal of the case, but some claim that the Sixth Circuit could seek to continue to enforce the nationwide stay. A federal district court in North Dakota had previously issued an injunction against the WOTUS rule in North Dakota and a dozen other states, so that injunction would continue to prevent implementation of the rule in those states if the Sixth Circuit removes its stay.

Further complicating the status of the WOTUS rule are the actions taken by the Trump administration, which issued a proposed rule last November to delay the rule’s effective date to 2020 and a second proposal last February to replace WOTUS with the rule that was in place previously while the EPA develops a new definition of WOTUS. The EPA has not finalized either of those rules. The federal district courts with WOTUS cases currently before them could choose to stay their cases pending the current administration’s rulemaking process. Alternatively, one of the federal district courts could issue a nationwide injunction against the rule.

Consistent with its history, WOTUS remains unclear. Agricultural interests will have to continue to wait and see what happens next.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, January 22nd, 2018

by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Assoc., Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The saga of Ohio’s designation of impaired waters continues. Readers will recall previous posts on the Ag Law Blog detailing lawsuits against the U.S. EPA for failing to approve or disapprove Ohio’s 2016 list of impaired waters within the time limit required by law. Those posts are available here and here.  Eventually, on May 19, 2017, the EPA accepted the Ohio EPA’s list of impaired waters, which did not include the open waters of Lake Erie’s western basin. Our blog post regarding that decision is here. That, however, was not the end of the story. In a letter to the Ohio EPA dated January 12, 2018, the U.S. EPA withdrew its May 2017 approval of Ohio's impaired waters list and asked Ohio to compile additional data for a new evaluation of Lake Erie.

What’s the issue?

Why has Ohio’s 2016 list of impaired waters been so hotly contested? Understanding this situation requires a little bit of background information. An EPA regulation created under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) requires that states submit a list of impaired waters every two years. "Impaired waters" are those water bodies that do not or are not expected to meet the water quality standards for their intended uses. Designating a water body as impaired triggers a review of pollution sources, determinations of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) of pollutants, and an action plan for meeting TMDLs.

After a state submits its impaired waters list, the EPA must approve or disapprove the designations within 30 days. In the case of Ohio’s 2016 list, Ohio did not include the open waters of the western basin of Lake Erie on its impaired waters list and the EPA delayed acting on the list until far beyond the 30 day mark.  On the other hand, Michigan listed all of the waters of Lake Erie within its jurisdiction as impaired, which included the open waters in the western basin of Lake Erie. By approving both Ohio’s list and Michigan’s list, the EPA was agreeing to two different designations for what could essential be the same water in the same area of Lake Erie. As a result of this discrepancy, environmental groups brought a federal lawsuit against the EPA.

EPA withdraws approval

The EPA’s recent letter to Ohio could possibly have been prompted by the lawsuit mentioned above. In  its letter, the EPA withdrew its May 2017 approval...”specifically with respect to the open waters of Lake Erie.” The agency states that Ohio’s 2016 submission failed to assemble and evaluate existing data and information related to nutrients in the open waters of Lake Erie, and directs Ohio to reevaluate available data and information by April 9, 2018.

Going forward

The controversy over Ohio’s 2016 designation of impaired waters has gone on so long that it's now time for a new list.  Ohio must submit a 2018 designation of  impaired waters to the EPA by April 1, 2018.  It is very likely that the withdrawal of approval for the 2016 list will affect which waters Ohio designates as impaired on its 2018 list, particularly in regards to the western basin of Lake Erie.

The withdrawal of approval could also affect the outcome of the current lawsuit against the EPA. The environmental groups plan to persist with the lawsuit even in light of the EPA’s withdrawal. It will be interesting to see who the District Court sides with, given the fact that the EPA has now taken steps to resolve the discrepancy at the heart of the lawsuit.

The letter from the U.S. EPA to the Ohio EPA is available here.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Written by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Assoc., Agricultural & Resource Law Program

We often receive questions about the status of industrial hemp as an agricultural crop in Ohio. Historically, growing industrial hemp has been controversial in the United States because of its close relationship to the marijuana plant—both are members of the same species. Plants used for industrial hemp, however, have a much lower amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than marijuana and do not have the intoxicating qualities of marijuana plants. Uses for industrial hemp are numerous; ranging from fabrics, to car parts, to bedding for animals. Because of potential usefulness, Congress authorized the growing of industrial hemp in individual states for “purposes of research” in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The 2014 Farm Bill and industrial hemp

The 2014 Farm Bill included a section codified at 7 U.S.C. § 5940 that allows industrial hemp to be grown under certain circumstances. Specifically, industrial hemp can be grown in a state if:

  • It is grown for research purposes;
  • The research is conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research; and
  • State law permits the growth of industrial hemp.

The federal law only permits hemp to be grown, cultivated, studied, and marketed under the guidance of institutions of higher education located in the state or the state department of agriculture. Furthermore, the state must certify and register the sites permitted to grow industrial hemp because any substance containing THC is a Schedule I controlled substance under 21 U.S.C. § 812 (c). This means that without a license issued by a state that allows industrial hemp to be grown for research, someone in possession of the plant would be violating federal drug law.

It is also important to note that under the federal law, “industrial hemp” is defined as the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a THC concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. Any concentration over that amount is not legal. Even those plants with a THC concentration less than or equal to 0.3 percent are illegal unless the grower has a state license.

State action on industrial hemp research

Since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, 26 states have implemented legislation allowing industrial hemp research or pilot programs.  Ohio is not one of these states, but all of the states bordering Ohio have passed laws allowing industrial hemp research. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a compilation of the state laws here.

Kentucky is an example of a state that is carrying out an industrial hemp pilot program. The program, codified in the Kentucky Revised Statutes §§ 260.850-260.869, allows universities, the state department of agriculture, and those who hold a license from the department of agriculture “to study methods of cultivating, processing, or marketing industrial hemp.” In order to obtain a license, a person must give the Kentucky Department of Agriculture both the legal description and the GPS coordinates of the area where they will grow industrial hemp. Furthermore, applicants for licenses must agree in writing to allow the State to enter the premises for inspection, and receive a yearly background check. Any convicted felon or person with a “drug-related misdemeanor” is barred from becoming licensed.

By implementing this industrial hemp program under state law, Kentucky has stated that it intends to be at the “forefront” of the industry. The state hopes to be in a position to profit from industrial hemp if and when the federal government removes the restrictions on growing and selling industrial hemp.  Information from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture is here and here.

Looking forward

Will the U.S. soon allow hemp to be legally grown as a crop? A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last July, H.R. 3530, calls for industrial hemp to be removed from the federal definition of marijuana, which would in turn remove it from the list of illegal controlled substances.  A quick search on Congress’ website reveals that similar bills have been introduced many times in the past but have not garnered sufficient support. The possibility that the current proposal will gain enough traction to pass is therefore slim.  But it is possible that continued research could prove the value of industrial hemp as an agricultural crop, which could eventually lead to less regulation in the future. Given Ohio’s lack of legislative interest in allowing industrial hemp research, Ohio farmers may be at a disadvantage if that day arrives.

For more information

Our colleague Harrison Pittman, Director of the National Agricultural Law Center, presented a webinar on industrial hemp and it's recorded here.  A Congressional Research Service report on "Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity" is available here.   A recent article on hemp by Farm and Dairy is available here.  

Posted In: Crop Issues
Tags: industrial hemp, hemp
Comments: 0
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

The Ohio House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill today that should make it easier to plug unused oil and gas wells in Ohio. The legislation also proposes a significant increase in the amount of funds available for doing so, from 14% to 45% of the state’s Oil and Gas Well Fund.

Under the proposed law, a landowner would be able to report an idle and orphaned well to the Chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources, who must inspect the well within 30 days and classify the well as distressed high priority, moderate medium priority or maintenance low priority for purposes of sealing the well or restoring the land surface at the well site. The legislation also lightens several procedures the Chief currently must follow before plugging a well, such as determining ownership and legal interests in the well, the oil and gas lease related to the well, and any equipment at the well. The Chief would not be required to search beyond 40 years to determine ownership and legal interests. Several procedures regarding the contracts entered into for restoration or plugging of a well would also change.

House Bill 225, proposed by Rep. Andy Thompson (R-Marietta) now goes to the Ohio Senate for consideration. Read more about the bill here.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Written by Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, Agricultural & Resource Law Program

A few bills related to food preparation and dining in the great outdoors are on the move in the Ohio General Assembly.

One of the bills, Senate Bill 233, would allow those who produce cottage foods to do so in a firebrick oven on a patio connected to the producer’s residence. According to Ohio law, cottage foods are non-hazardous and are produced in a person’s home. Cottage foods can include, but are not necessarily limited to: bakery products, jams, jellies, candy, and fruit butter. If passed, SB 233 would change the current law, which only allows cottage foods to be prepared in an oven or on a stove inside the cottage food producer’s residence. SB 233 would allow producers to use both an inside oven and an outside firebrick oven. The bill is currently being debated in the Senate Health, Human Services & Medicaid Committee.

Two identical bills concerning dogs on restaurant patios are working their way through the two houses of the General Assembly—House Bill 263 and SB 182. The bills would prohibit state agencies and local boards of health from adopting rules banning dogs “in an outdoor dining area of a retail food establishment or food service operation.” Even though the government would not be able to ban dogs in those areas, the bills would allow individual restaurants to decide to keep dogs out of their outdoor areas, with the exception of service dogs. HB 263 is being considered in the House Economic Development, Commerce & Labor Committee. SB 182 is currently being discussed in the Senate Health, Human Services & Medicaid Committee.

Will cottage food producers be able to make tasty treats in firebrick ovens? Will your canine companion generally be allowed to accompany you on restaurant patios throughout Ohio? Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for any updates on these bills.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, December 07th, 2017

Decisions announced today by the Ohio Supreme Court will allow landowners to challenge Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) land values established by Ohio’s tax commissioner by appealing the values to the Board of Tax Appeals.

Twin rulings in cases filed by a group of owners of woodland enrolled in CAUV, Adams v. Testa, clarify that when the tax commissioner develops tables that propose CAUV values for different types of farmland, holds a public hearing on the values and adopts the final values by journal entry, the tax commissioner’s actions constitute a “final determination” that a landowner may immediately appeal to the Board of Tax Appeals. The Board of Tax Appeals had argued that the adoption of values is not a final determination and therefore is not one that a landowner may appeal to the Board.

The tax commissioner forwards the CAUV tables to the county auditors, who must use the values for a three year period. An inability to appeal the values when established by the tax commissioner would mean that a landowner must wait until individual CAUV tax values are calculated by the county auditor, who relies upon the tax commissioner’s values to calculate the county values. As a result of today’s decision, landowners may appeal the values as soon as the tax commissioner releases them.

The landowners also claimed that the process and rules for establishing the CAUV values are unreasonable and not legal. However, the Court rejected those claims.

For an excellent summary of the Adams v. Testa cases by Court News Ohio, follow this link.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, December 01st, 2017

The first hearing for a bill that would limit legal liability for Ohio beekeepers took place this week before the House Economic Development, Commerce and Labor Committee. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dick Stein (R-Norwalk), offered several reasons for the proposal, including that beekeeping has recently grown in popularity along with increased demand for honey products, bees play an important role in pollinating plants and contribute to the agricultural economy, and beekeepers have incurred expenses defending themselves against lawsuits that are typically unsuccessful.

House Bill 392 aims to provide immunity from liability for any personal injury or property damage that occurs in connection with keeping and maintaining bees, bee equipment, queen breeding equipment, apiaries, and appliances, as long as the beekeeper does all of the following:

  1. Registers the apiary with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, as is currently required by Ohio law;
  2. Operates according to Ohio Revised Code Chapter 909, which contains provisions for apiaries;
  3. Implements and complies with the best management practices for beekeeping as established by the Ohio State Beekeepers Association; and
  4. Complies with local zoning ordinance provisions for apiaries. Note that zoning ordinances for apiaries would likely exist only in incorporated areas, as Ohio’s “agricultural exemption from zoning” prohibits townships and counties from using zoning to regulate agricultural activities like beekeeping in most situations.

A beekeeper would not have immunity from liability resulting from intentional tortious conduct or gross negligence, however.

The second hearing for the bill will take place on December 5, 2017. Information about the proposal is available here.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Written by Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Veal and dairy producers in Ohio will be subject to new livestock care standards in 2018. Producers were first made aware of these changes when the Ohio Livestock Care Standards for veal, dairy and other species were originally adopted in September of 2011 after the passage of State Issue 2, a constitutional amendment that required Ohio to establish standards for the care of livestock. Since the new care standards make significant changes to the management of veal and dairy, producers were given a little more than six years to transition their facilities and practices accordingly. The new standards will be effective on January 1, 2018.  Producers with veal calves and dairy cattle are encouraged to understand the regulations and make the required changes to their operations by January 1.

Changes to veal regulations

The regulations for veal address housing for veal calves weighing 750 pounds or less. Currently, veal calves may be tethered or non-tethered in stalls of a minimum of 2 feet x 5.5 feet. Next year, the following housing standards will apply:

  • Tethering will be permitted only to prevent naval and cross sucking and as restraint for examinations, treatments and transit, if:
    • The tether is long enough to allow the veal calf to stand, groom, eat, lie down comfortably and rest in a natural posture;
    • The tether’s length and collar size is checked every other week and adjusted as necessary.
  • Individual pens must allow for quality air circulation, provide opportunity for socialization, allow calves to stand without impediment, provide for normal resting postures, grooming, eating and lying down, and must be large enough to allow calves to turn around.
  • By the time they are ten weeks old, veal calves must be housed in group pens. The regulations currently require that group pens meet the above standards required for individual pens and also must contain at least two calves with a minimum area of 14 square feet per calf, must separate calves of substantially different sizes and that calves must be monitored daily for naval and cross sucking and be moved to individual pens or provided other intervention for naval or cross sucking.

The veal regulations, including both the current rules and the rules that will become effective January 1, are available here.

Changes to dairy cattle regulations

There is only one change to the dairy care standards. As of January 1, docking the tails of dairy cattle will only be permissible if:

  • Performed by a licensed veterinarian; and
  • Determined to be medically necessary.

The dairy cattle standards, including the current tail docking rule and the rule that becomes effective January 1, are here.

More information is also available in this press release recently published by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and on the website for Ohio’s Livestock Care Standards, which is here.

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