Conservation Programs

Giant Panda chewing on bamboo stalk.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Friday, July 16th, 2021

Did you know that Giant Panda cubs can be as small as a stick of butter?  A panda mother is approximately 900 times bigger than her newborn cub, which can weigh less than 5 ounces.  This is like an 8-pound human baby having a mother that weighed 7,200 pounds – this size difference may explain why so many panda cubs die from accidentally being crushed by their mothers.  However, not everything is doom and gloom for the Giant Panda.  Chinese officials have officially downgraded pandas from “endangered” to “vulnerable.”  Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature re-labelled, the Panda as “vulnerable” in 2016, China wanted to make sure that the population of its national treasure continued to grow before downgrading the panda’s classification.  

Although it seems as though pandas are thriving thanks to conservation efforts in China, not all animal species in China are so lucky.  This week’s Ag Law Harvest takes a trip around the world to bring you domestic and international agricultural and resource issues.  We take a look at court decisions, Congress’ latest actions, China’s struggle with African Swine Fever, and President Biden’s latest executive order. 

Iowa Supreme Court Dismisses Raccoon River Lawsuit.  Environmental organizations (“Plaintiffs”) filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa and its agencies (“Defendants”) asking the court to compel Defendants to adopt legislation that would require Iowa farmers to implement practices that would help reduce the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Raccoon River.  The Plaintiffs argued that Defendants violated their duty under the Public Trust Doctrine (“PTD”), which is a legal doctrine that requires states to hold certain natural resources in trust for the benefit of the state’s citizens.  Defendants argued that Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.  The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Defendants and found that a ruling in Plaintiffs’ favor would not necessarily remediate Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries, and therefore the Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.  The Iowa Supreme Court also found that Plaintiffs’ issue was a nonjusticiable political question.  The political question doctrine is a principle that helps prevent upsetting the balance of power between the branches of government.  Under the doctrine, courts will not decide certain issues because they are better suited to be decided by another branch of government.  In this case, the court reasoned that Plaintiffs’ issue was better suited to be resolved through the legislative branch of government, not the judicial branch.  The Iowa Supreme Court decision is significant because, as it stands, agricultural producers in the Raccoon River Watershed will not be required to adopt any new practices but the decision leaves it up to Iowa’s legislature to determine whether farmers should be required to adopt new practices under the PTD to help reduce nitrogen and phosphorus in Raccoon River.  

U.S. House of Representatives’ spending bill increases focuses on climate action and environmental protection.  Before the July 4th break, the United States House Appropriations Committee approved the first of its Fiscal Year 2022 (“FY22”) funding bills.  Included in these bills is the agriculture funding bill, which will be sent to the House floor for full consideration.  The bill provides $26.55 billion in the discretionary funding of agencies and programs within the USDA, FDA, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Farm Credit Administration – an increase of $2.851 billion from 2021.  In total, the agriculture funding bill includes $196.7 billion for both mandatory and discretionary programs.  The bill focuses on: (1) rural development and infrastructure – including rural broadband; (2) food and nutrition programs to help combat hunger and food insecurity; (3) international food assistance to promote U.S. agricultural exports; (4) conservation programs to help farmers, ranchers, and other landowners protect their land; (5) ag lending; (6) climate-related work to help research and remedy the climate crisis; and (7) enforcement of environmental programs.  The agriculture spending bill will, however, have to be reconciled with any spending bill produced by the U.S. Senate.

U.S. House Agriculture Committee advances rural broadband bill.  The House Agriculture Committee (the “Committee”) unanimously voted to advance the Broadband Internet Connections for Rural America Act (the “Act”), which would authorize $4.5 billion in annual funding, starting in fiscal year 2022, for the Broadband ReConnect Program (the “Program”) through fiscal year 2029.  The existing Program is set to expire on June 30, 2022.  To demonstrate Congress’ commitment to expanding rural broadband, the Program was only given $742 million in 2021.  It is unclear whether the Act will be included in the infrastructure package that is currently being negotiated between Congress and the White House.  Under the Act, the USDA must give the highest priority to projects that seek to provide broadband service to unserved communities that do not have any residential broadband service with speeds of at least 10/1 Mbps.  The USDA will then prioritize communities with less than 10,000 permanent residents and areas with a high percentage of low-income families.

Small hog farmers in China no longer required to seek environmental approval.  China is the world’s largest pork producer and over the past few years, its hog herds have been decimated.  A deadly African Swine Fever (“ASF”) has wiped out about half of China’s hog herds, especially affecting small farmers.  According to Reuters, China relies heavily on small farmers for its pork output, but because of ASF, small farmers have been left with little to no product and mass amounts of debts.  Further, Chinese farmers are hesitant to rebuild their herds because ASF is an ongoing risk and farmers stand to lose everything if they continue to raise diseased hogs.  Addressing these concerns, China’s agriculture ministry will no longer require small hog farmers to get environmental approval from the government before breeding their hogs.  China hopes to reduce the costs and red tape for small farmers as China tries to incentivize small farmers to rebuild their hog herds.  African Swine Fever is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease affecting both domestic and feral swine.  The ASF poses no threat to human health but can decimate domestic hog populations.  Germany has recently reported its first two cases of ASF in domestic hogs.  Currently, ASF has not been found within the United States, and the USDA hopes to keep it that way.  To learn more about ASF, visit the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website

President Biden signs executive order to reduce consolidation in agriculture.  President Biden’s recent Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy seeks to address inadequate competition within the U.S. economy that the administration believes holds back economic growth and innovation.  The Order includes more than 70 initiatives by more than a dozen federal agencies to promote competition.  With respect to agriculture, the Order seeks to break up agricultural markets “that have become more concentrated and less competitive.”  The Biden Administration believes that the markets for seeds, equipment, feed, and fertilizer are dominated by a few large companies which negatively impacts family farmers and ranchers.  The Biden Administration believes that the lack of competition increases the costs of inputs for family farmers all while decreasing the revenue a family farmer receives.  The Order directs the USDA to consider issuing new rules: (1) making it easier for farmers to bring and win lawsuits under the Packers and Stockyards Act; (2) prohibiting chicken processors from exploiting and underpaying chicken farmers; (3) adopting anti-retaliation protections for farmers who speak out about a company’s bad practices; and (4) defining when meat producers can promote and label their products as a “Product of the USA.”  The Order also requires the USDA to develop a plan to increase opportunities for small farmers to access markets and receive a fair return and encourages the Federal Trade Commission to limit when equipment companies can restrict farmers from repairing their own farm machinery.  Follow this link to learn more about President Biden’s recent Executive Order.

Farm Office Team on Zoom Webinar
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

"Farm Office Live" returns this summer as an opportunity for you to get the latest outlook and updates on ag law, farm management, ag economics, farm business analysis, and other related issues.  Targeted to farmers and agri-business stakeholders, our specialists digest the latest news and issues and present it in an easy-to-understand format.

The live broadcast is presented monthly.  In months where two shows are scheduled, one will be held in the morning and one in the evening.  Each session is recorded and posted on the OSU Extension Farm Office YouTube channel for later viewing.

Current Schedule:

July 23, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  December 17, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am 
August 27, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  January 19, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 
September 23, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  January 21, 2022 10:00 - 11:30 am 
October 13, 2021 7:00 - 8:30 pm  Februrary 16, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 
October 15, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  February 18, 2022 10:00 - 11:30 am 
November 17, 2021 7:00 - 8:30 pm  March 16, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 
November 19, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  March 18, 2022  10:00 - 11:30 am 
December 15, 2021 7:00 - 8:30 pm  April 20, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 

Topics we will discuss in upcoming webinars include:

  • Coronavirus Food Assitance Program (CFAP) 
  • Legislative Proposals and Accompanying Tax Provisions
  • Outlook on Crop Input Costs and Profit Margins 
  • Outlook on Cropland Values and Cash Rents 
  • Tax Issues That May Impact Farm Businesses 
  • Legal Trends
  • Legislative Updates
  • Farm Business Management and Analysis
  • Farm Succession & Estate Planning
 

To register or to view a previous "Farm Office Live," please visit https://go.osu.edu/farmofficelive. You will receive a reminder with your personal link to join each month. 

The Farm Office is a one-stop shop for navigating the legal and economic challenges of agricultural production. For more information visit https://farmoffice.osu.edu or contact Julie Strawser at strawser.35@osu.edu or call 614.292.2433

Florida Panther
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Friday, July 02nd, 2021

Did you know that the Florida Panther is the last subspecies of Mountain Lion found east of the Mississippi River?  The Florida Panther is an endangered species with an estimated population of under 100 panthers.  As bleak as it may seem, things may be looking up for the Florida Panther to make a roaring comeback (which is ironic because Florida Panthers can’t roar). 

Like the Florida Panther, we have prowled agricultural and resource issues from across the country.  Topics include a historic move by Florida to protect its wildlife and natural resources, agritourism getting a boost in Pennsylvania, Colorado’s livestock industry receiving a lifeline, and USDA efforts to expand broadband and water quality initiatives.   

Florida makes conservation history.  Florida has recently enacted a new law known as the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act (the “Act”).  The Act creates a wildlife corridor that will connect Florida’s large national and state parks and create an unbroken area of preserved land that stretches from the Alabama state line all the way down to the Florida Keys.  Specifically, the Act looks to protect about 18 million acres of habitat for Florida’s wildlife.  The Act seeks to prevent wildlife, like the Florida Panther, from being cut off from other members of its species, which is a main driver of extinction.  The Act also aims to protect Florida’s major watersheds and rivers, provide wildlife crossings over and/or under major highways and roads, and establish sustainable practices to help working ranches, farms and, forests that will be vital to ensuring the success and sustainability of the wildlife corridor.  The Act goes into effect July 1 and provides $400 million in initial funding to help purchase land to create the corridor.    

Pennsylvania provides protection for agritourism operators.  Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf, signed House Bill 101 into law.  Like Ohio’s law, House Bill 101 shields agritourism operators from certain lawsuits that could arise from circumstances beyond their control.  House Bill 101 prevents participants in an agritourism activity from suing the agritourism operator if the operator warns participants of the inherent risks of being on a farm and engaging in an agritourism activity.  An agritourism operator must: (1) have a 3’ x 2’ warning sign posted and notifying participants that an agritourism operator is not liable, except under limited circumstances, for any injury or death of a participant resulting from an agritourism activity; and (2) have a signed written agreement with an agritourism participant acknowledging an agritourism operator’s limited liability or have specific language printed on an admission ticket to an agritourism activity that notifies and warns a participant of an agritourism operator’s limited liability.  House Bill 101, however, does not completely shelter agritourism operators.  An agritourism operator can still be liable for injuries, death, or damages arising from overnight accommodations, weddings, concerts, and food and beverage services.  The enactment of House Bill 101 will help to protect farmers from costly and unnecessary lawsuits and provide additional sustainability to Pennsylvania’s agritourism industry.     

Colorado Supreme Court strikes proposed ballot initiative seeking to hold farmers liable for animal cruelty.  The Colorado Supreme Court issued an opinion removing Initiative 16, also known as the Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation Initiative (“PAUSE”), from voter consideration.  Initiative 16 sought to amend Colorado law and remove certain agriculture exemptions from Colorado’s animal cruelty laws.  Initiative 16 intended to set limitations on the slaughter of livestock and to broadly expand the definition of “sexual act with an animal” to include any intrusion or penetration of an animal’s sexual organs, which opponents of the initiative have argued would prohibit artificial insemination and spaying/neutering procedures.  The Colorado Supreme Court found that the initiative violated Colorado’s single-subject requirement for ballot initiatives and therefore, was an illegal ballot initiative.  The court argued that the central theme of the initiative was to incorporate livestock into Colorado’s animal cruelty laws.  However, because the initiative redefined “sexual act with an animal” to include animals other than livestock, the court concluded that the ballot initiative covered two subjects, not one.  The court reasoned that because the initiative addresses two unrelated subjects, voters could be surprised by the consequences of the initiative if it passed, which is why Colorado has single-subject requirement for ballot initiatives. 

USDA announces dates for Conservation Reserve Program (“CRP”) signups.  The USDA set a July 23 deadline for agricultural producers and landowners to apply for the CRP General and will also be accepting applications for CRP Grasslands from July 12 through August 20.  Through the CRP General, producers and landowners establish long-term conservation practices aimed at conserving certain plant species, controlling soil erosion, improving water quality, and enhancing wildlife habitat on cropland.  CRP Grasslands helps landowners and producers protect grasslands including rangeland, pastureland, and certain other lands, while maintaining grazing lands.  To enroll in the CRP, producers and landowners should contact their local USDA Service Center

USDA expands CLEAR30 initiative nationwide.  The USDA announced that landowners and agricultural producers currently enrolled in CRP now have an opportunity to sign a 30-year contract through the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers Initiative (“CLEAR30”).  CLEAR30 was created by the 2018 Farm Bill to address water quality concerns and was originally only available in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay watersheds.  Now, producers and landowners across the country can sign up for CLEAR30.  Eligible producers must have certain water quality improvement practices under a continuous CRP or under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (“CREP”) and contracts that are set to expire on September 30, 2021.  The USDA hopes that by expanding the initiative, it will enable more producers to take conservation efforts up a level and create lasting impacts.  CLEAR30’s longer contracts help to ensure that conservation benefits will remain in place longer to help in reducing sediment and nutrient runoff and reducing algal blooms.  To sign up, producers and landowners should contact their local USDA Service Center by August 6, 2021.

Three federal agencies enter into agreement to coordinate broadband funding deployment.  The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), the USDA, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) entered into an agreement to coordinate the distribution of federal funds for broadband development in rural and underserved areas.  In an announcement released by the USDA, Secretary Vilsack stressed the importance of broadband in rural and underserved communities.  Lessons learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic have made access to broadband a central issue for local, state, federal and Tribal governments.  The goal is to get 100% of Americans connected to high-speed internet.  As part of the signed agreement, the agencies will share information about existing or planned projects and identify areas that need broadband service in order to reach the 100% connectivity goal.  Visit the USDA’s Rural Development Telecom Programs webpage to learn more about the USDA’s efforts to provide broadband service in rural areas.    

Cicada on a fingertip by Joe Boggs
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Friday, June 18th, 2021

Did you know that a housefly buzzes in the key of F?  Neither did I, but I think the musical stylings of the Cicada have stolen the show this summer. 

Aside from Mother Nature’s orchestra, federal agencies have also been abuzz as they continue to review the prior administration’s agencies’ rules and regulations.  This week’s Ag Law Harvest is heavily focused on federal agency announcements that may lead to rule changes that affect you, your farm or business, or your family.

USDA issues administrative complaint against Ohio company.  The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (“AMS”) issued an administrative complaint on May 4, 2021,  against Barnesville Livestock LLC (“Barnesville”) and an Ohio resident for allegedly violating the Packers and Stockyards Act (“P&S Act”).  An investigation conducted by the AMS revealed that the Ohio auction company failed to properly maintain its custodial account resulting in shortages of $49,059 on July 31, 2019, $123,571 on November 29, 2019, and $54,519 on December 31, 2019.  Companies like Barnesville are required to keep a custodial account under the P&S Act.  A custodial account is a trust account that is designed to keep shippers’ proceeds from the sale of livestock in a secure and centralized location until those proceeds can be distributed to the seller.  According to the AMS, Barnesville failed to deposit funds equal to the proceeds received from livestock sales into the custodial account. Additionally, Barnesville reported a $15,711 insolvency in its Annual Report submission to AMS.  Operating with custodial account shortages and while insolvent are both violations of the P&S Act.  The AMS alleges that Barnesville’s violations place livestock sellers at risk of not being paid fully or completely.  If Barnesville is proven to have violated the P&S Act in an oral hearing, it may be ordered to cease and desist from violating the P&S Act and assessed a civil penalty of up to $28,061 per violation.  

USDA to invest $1 billion as first investment of new “Build Back Better” initiative.  The USDA announced that it will be investing up to $1 billion to support and expand the emergency food network so food banks and local organizations can serve their communities.  Building on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA looks to enter into cooperative agreements with state, Tribal, and local entities to more efficiently purchase food from local producers and invest in infrastructure that enables organizations to more effectively reach underserved communities.  The USDA hopes to ensure that producers receive a fair share of the food dollar while also providing healthy food for food insecure Americans.  This investment is the first part of the USDA’s Build Back Better initiative which is focused on building a better food system.  Build Back Better initiative efforts will focus on improving access to nutritious foods, address racial injustice and inequity, climate change, and provide ongoing support for producers and workers.

Colorado passes law changing agricultural employment within the state.  On June 8, 2021, Colorado’s legislature passed Senate Bill 87, also known as the Farmworker Bill of Rights, which will change how agricultural employees are to be treated under Colorado law.  The bill removes the state’s exemption for agricultural labor from state and local minimum wage laws, requiring agricultural employers to pay the state’s $12.32/hour minimum wage to all employees.  Under the new law, agricultural employees are allowed to organize and join labor unions and must also be paid overtime wages for any time worked over 12 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.  The bill also mandates certain working conditions including: (1) requiring Colorado’s department of labor to implement rules to prevent agricultural workers from heat-related stress, illness, and injury when the outside temperature reaches 80 degrees or higher; (2) limiting the use of a short-handled hoe for weeding and thinning in a stooped, kneeling, or squatting position; (3) requiring an agricultural employer give periodic bathroom, meal, and rest breaks; and (4) limiting requirements for hand weeding or thinning of vegetation.  Reportedly, Colorado’s Governor, Jared Polis, is eager to sign the bill into law. 

Wildlife agencies release plan to improve Endangered Species Act.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) have released a plan to reverse Trump administration changes to the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  The agencies reviewed the ESA following President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, which directed all federal agencies to review any agency actions during the Trump administration that conflict with the Biden-Harris administration objectives.  The agencies look to reverse five ESA regulations finalized by the Trump administration which include the FWS’ process for considering exclusions from critical habitat designations, redefining the term “habitat,” reinstating prior regulations for listing species and designating critical habitats, and reinstating protections under the ESA to species listed as threatened.  Critics of the agencies’ plan claim that the current administration’s proposals would remove incentives for landowners to cooperate in helping wildlife.  

EPA announces intent to revise the definition of “waters of the United States.”  On June 9, 2021, the EPA and the Department of the Army (the “Agencies”) announced that they intend to change the definition of “waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”), in order to protect the nation’s water resources.  The Agencies’ also filed a motion in a Massachusetts federal court requesting that the court send the Trump administration’s Navigable Water Protection Rule (“NWPR”) back to the Agencies so they can initiate a new rulemaking process to change the definition of WOTUS.  In the motion, the Agencies explained that pursuant to President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, they have reviewed the necessary data and determined that the Trump administration’s rule has led to significant environmental harm.  The Agencies hope to restore the protections that were in place prior to the 2015 WOTUS rule.  According to the EPA, the Agencies’ new regulatory process will be guided by: (1) protecting water resources and communities consistent with the Clean Water Act; (2) the latest science and the effects of climate change on the nation’s waters; (3) practical implementation; and (4) the experience and input of the agricultural community, landowners, states, Tribes, local governments, environmental groups, and disadvantaged communities with environmental justice concerns.  The EPA is expected to release further details of the Agencies’ plans, including opportunity for public participation, in a forthcoming action.  To learn more about WOTUS, visit https://www.epa.gov/wotus.

By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Friday, May 21st, 2021

It’s that time of year again.  A time full of excitement and hope.  Kids and students are eagerly waiting for that final bell to ring, releasing them into weeks of freedom and fun.  Some are celebrating with their closest loved ones as they prepare to embark on their next journey.  And lastly, some parents have circled a certain fall date for when things return back to normal.  It is finally nice to see hope, joy, and excitement return to our lives.  These past 18 months have been a real wake-up call, and by no means is it over, but the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.  This past week has also been abuzz with interesting agricultural and resource issues.  This edition of the Ag Law Harvest brings you some interesting lawsuits, reports, and initiatives from across the country affecting agriculture and the environment. 

USDA expands aquaculture disaster assistance.  The USDA has announced a policy change that makes food fish and other aquatic species eligible for the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP).  Previously, only losses of farm-raised game and bait fish were eligible under ELAP.  Under the program, eligible producers can receive financial assistance for losses due to disease and certain severe weather events.  To be eligible, losses must have occurred on or after January 1, 2021.  The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is waiving the requirement to file a notice of loss within 30 calendar days for farm-raised fish and other aquatic species death losses that occurred prior to June 1, 2021.  Producers must still provide records to document any eligible losses.  The deadline to file an application for payment for the 2021 program year is January 31, 2022.  The USDA also announced that it will purchase up to $159.4 million in domestically produced seafood, fruits, legumes, and nuts for distribution to domestic food assistance programs in order to address disruptions in the food production and supply chains resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Oregon ballot initiative seeks to redefine animal cruelty.  Supporters of Oregon Initiative Petition 13 (“IP13”) have succeeded in meeting their first requirement to putting their proposed law on the 2022 Oregon ballot.  IP13 seeks to amend the definition of what constitutes animal cruelty and who can be punished.  Oregon, like many other states, does have an animal cruelty law that prohibits individuals from unnecessarily harming animals.  Additionally, Oregon’s current law specifically exempts certain practices from being assumed to be animal abuse (activities like farming, breeding livestock, hunting, fishing, wildlife management practices, rodeos, slaughter, and scientific or agricultural research).  However, IP13 seeks to remove all the above listed exemptions and would make it a crime to engage in those types of activities.  IP13 only exempts individuals that harm an animal because the animal posed an immediate risk of danger and veterinarians.  Supporters of IP13 claim that no one should be above the law and should be held accountable for any and all animal abuse and neglect.  Opponents of IP13 fear that if the initiative passes and becomes law, Oregon’s animal agriculture industry will be destroyed.  Opponents argue that IP13 makes common farming practices like breeding and slaughtering livestock for food, illegal.  If supporters of IP13 continue to collect signatures and meet the required thresholds, IP13 will be voted on by the citizens of Oregon in 2022. 

Indiana passes law to purchase locally grown food from youth agricultural education programs.  Indiana’s governor signed a bill into law that allows schools to purchase up to $7,500 worth of food from youth agricultural education programs.  The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Steve Davisson, was born after local Indiana FFA students were raising hogs and growing hydroponic lettuce to sell to their school cafeteria but hit a roadblock because of state laws and requirements.  House Bill 1119 provides an avenue for local youth agricultural programs to sell to their respective school districts and not compete against wholesale distributors.  Rep. Davisson hopes the program will expand into other Indiana schools to give students practical agricultural experience and potentially launch students into a career in agriculture.  

Federal lawsuit about USDA’s RFID tags for cattle dismissed.  Last month we reported that farmers and ranchers from South Dakota and Wyoming filed a lawsuit against the USDA and its subagency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (“APHIS”), for improperly using advisory committees to create new rules in violation of federal law.  Well, last week a Wyoming federal court dismissed the complaint against the USDA and APHIS.  The court concluded that APHIS did not “establish” the Cattle Traceability Working Group (“CTWG”) or the Producer Traceability Council (“PTC”) as advisory councils to create the RFID tag rules.  The court also found that the advisory groups were completely private and consisted of cattle industry representatives, showing that APHIS did not “establish” these advisory groups.  Additionally, the court held that APHIS did not “utilize” or control the actions of the advisory groups.  The court reasoned that the advisory groups and APHIS were working on parallel tracks to achieve the same goal, preventing and tracing animal disease for livestock moving across state lines, and that APHIS only provided input to the advisory groups.  The court held that the USDA and APHIS were not in violation of federal law because the advisory groups were not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act.  As it stands, the USDA and APHIS have rescinded their July 2020 notice that RFID tags would be required for cattle crossing state lines. However, attorneys and interest groups representing the farmers and ranchers in the Wyoming case still fear that APHIS and the USDA will use the information provided by these advisory groups to implement an “unlawful mandate” in the future.  

South Dakota farmer suing the USDA over a mud puddle?  On May 05, 2021, Arlen and Cindy Foster filed a federal lawsuit in South Dakota claiming that the USDA has improperly identified a mud puddle in the middle of their farm field as a federally protected wetland and that the Swampbuster Act violates the U.S. Constitution.  Under the Swampbuster Act, farmers that receive USDA benefits cannot produce crops on or around a federally protected wetland or they risk losing all federal agriculture benefits.  The Fosters contend that Arlen’s father planted a tree belt in 1936 to help prevent soil erosion which is now causing snow to accumulate under the tree belt producing a puddle in the field when the snow melts.  The Fosters argue that this makes the puddle in their field an unregulated “artificial wetland” and is not subject to the Swampbuster Act or the USDA’s control.  Additionally, the Fosters claim that the Swampbuster Act violates the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that the federal government cannot regulate the Fosters’ alleged wetland.  The Fosters reason that if their puddle should be considered a wetland, any regulation of that wetland should come from the state of South Dakota, not the federal government.   

Hawai’i man fined over $600,000 for pouring poison into Paahe’ehe’e Stream.  Hawai’i’s Board of Land and Natural Resources (“BLNR”) fined a Hilo resident $633,840 for pouring poison into a North Hilo stream and causing the death of an estimated 6,250 Tahitian prawns.  North Hilo has a history of individuals using poison to harvest Tahitian prawn.  DLNR, in conjunction with other natural resource protection entities, are continuously concerned with the impact that the poison will have on the local wildlife and environment.  The $633,840 fine is the largest in BLNR history and advocates hope that it is a step in the right direction to let illegal fishers know that Hawai’i is committed to prosecuting individuals that engage in harmful environmental practices to the full extent of the law in order to protect Hawai’i’s natural resources. 

Montana man sentenced to prison for cattle theft.  A ranch manager has been sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay back $451,000 after pleading guilty to wire fraud and to selling cattle that he did not own.  The Montana man was a ranch manager at Hayes Ranch in Wilsall, Montana from 2008 to 2017 and also started his own cattle company in 2015.  When the owners of Hayes Ranch were out of town, the ranch manager began stealing cattle from his employer and selling them as if they were his own.  The ranch manager was ordered to repay his former employer $241,000 for the stolen cattle.  Additionally, the ranch manager was ordered to pay Northwest Farm Credit Services over $200,000 for selling cattle that he pledged as collateral for loans obtained from the lender.  

The return of the U.S. Jaguar?  Environmental groups and scientists recently published a paper urging U.S. wildlife managers to consider reintroducing jaguars to the American Southwest.  Advocates argue that reintroducing jaguars to the region is essential to species conservation and restoration of the ecosystem.  In July 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a jaguar recovery plan as required by the Endangered Species Act of 1973.  While the recovery plan does not call for the reintroduction of jaguars into the Southwest region of the U.S., federal officials have been increasingly focused on sustaining habitat, eliminating poaching, and improving public acceptance for jaguars that naturally make their way across the U.S.-Mexico border.  The southwest region of the U.S. makes up 1% of the jaguar’s historic range but is suitable for sustaining the big cat.  Jaguar sightings have been reported in the area, although very rarely.  Jaguar advocates hope that potential opposition to the reintroduction of jaguars, specifically from ranchers and rural residents, can be eased by implementing compensation programs focused on things like increased livestock deaths. 

Cover crop on Ohio farm
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, May 05th, 2021

There’s a lot of talk about carbon markets and agriculture these days.  While carbon markets aren’t new, recent proposals in Congress and announcements by the Biden administration are raising new interests in them.  Some companies are actively pursuing carbon trading agreements with farmers, further fueling the discussion in the agricultural community. 

As is common for any new opportunity, the talk on carbon markets may be tinged with a bit of skepticism and a lot of questions.  Do carbon sequestration practices have real potential as an agricultural commodity?  That’s a tough question and the answer isn’t yet clear.  There are answers for other questions, though, as well as resources that may be helpful for those considering carbon markets for the first time.  Here’s a sampling.

What is a carbon market?   A carbon market revolves around carbon credits generated by carbon reduction practices.  In the farm setting, a producer who either lowers the farm’s carbon emissions or captures carbon through “sequestration” practices can earn carbon credits.  Like other markets, a carbon market involves a transaction between a seller and a buyer.  The seller sells a carbon credit to a buyer who can use the carbon credit to offset or reduce its carbon emissions.

Do carbon markets already exist?  Yes, although they may be private markets with varying names occurring in different regions.  For example, Bayer Crop Sciences began its Carbon Initiative last year, paying producers for adopting carbon reduction practices that will help Bayer reach its goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% in 2030.  Indigo Ag began entering into long-term carbon agreements with producers in 2019, paying $15 per ton for carbon sequestration practices.  Food companies and agribusinesses including McDonald’s, Cargill, and General Mills formed the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, which will fully open its private carbon market in 2022.

Are legal agreements involved?  Yes.  Using a written agreement is a common practice in carbon market transactions, but the agreements can vary from market to market.  Provisions might address acceptable practices, calculating and verifying carbon reductions including third-party verification, sharing data and records, pricing, costs of practices, minimum acreage, and contract period.  As with other legal contracts, reviewing a carbon agreement with an attorney is a wise decision.  Watch for more details about carbon agreements as we share our analysis of them in future blog posts.

What is President Biden considering for carbon markets?  The Biden administration has expressed interest in developing a federal carbon bank that would pay producers and foresters for carbon reduction practices.  The USDA would administer the bank with funding from the Commodity Credit Corporation.  Rumors are that the bank would begin with at least $1 billion to purchase carbon credits from producers for $20 per ton.  The proposal is one of several ideas for the USDA outlined in the administration’s Climate 21 Project.

What is Congress proposing for carbon markets?  The bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act would require USDA to assess the market for carbon credits, establish a third-party verifier certification program overseen by an advisory council, establish an online website with information for producers, and regularly report to Congress on market performance, challenges for producers, and barriers to market entry.  An initial $4.1 million program allocation would be supplemented with $1 million per year for the next five years.  The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee has already passed the bill.  The Rural Forest Markets Act, also a bipartisan bill, would help small-scale private forest landowners by guaranteeing financing for markets for forest carbon reduction practices.

Is there opposition to carbon markets?  Yes, and skepticism also.  For example, a recent letter from dozens of organizations urged Congress to “oppose carbon offset scams like the Growing Climate Solutions Act” and argued that agricultural offsets are ineffective, incompatible with sustainable agriculture, may further consolidate agriculture and will increase hazardous pollution, especially in environmental justice communities.  The Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy also criticizes carbon markets, claiming that emission credit prices are too low and volatile, leakages and offsets can lead to accountability and fraud issues, measurement tools are inadequate, soil carbon storage is impermanent, and the markets undermine more effective and holistic practices.  Almost half of the farmers in the 2020 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll were uncertain about earning money for carbon credits while 17% said carbon markets should not be developed.

To learn more about carbon markets, drop into an upcoming webinar by our partner, the National Agricultural Law Center.  “Considering Carbon:  The Evolution and Operation of Carbon Markets” on May 19, 2021 at Noon will feature Chandler Van Voorhis, a leading expert in conservation and ecological markets.  The Center also has a recording of last month’s webinar on “Opportunities and Challenges Agriculture Faces in the Climate Debate,” featuring Andrew Walmsley, Director of Congressional Relations and Shelby Swain Myers, Economist, both with American Farm Bureau.  A new series by the Center on Considering Carbon will focus on legal issues with the carbon industry and will complement our upcoming project on “The Conservation Movement:  Legal Needs for Farm and Forest Landowners.”  There’s still more talking to do on carbon markets.

By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Friday, April 30th, 2021

The final day of April is already here!  Spring feels like it has finally arrived and planting season is in motion across Ohio.  Just like farmers in the field, legislatures, government bodies, and courts across the country are hard at work addressing critical agricultural and resource law issues.  We've gathered a collection of those issues for this Ag Law Harvest. 

Debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers is in the works.  The USDA has announced its plans for implementing debt relief to socially disadvantaged producers mandated by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that Congress passed in March.  The payments will be 120% of any outstanding Farm Service Agency Direct and Guaranteed Farm Loans and Farm Storage Facility Loans held by a socially disadvantaged farmer on January 1, 2021.  The additional 20% on top of the loan balance is for tax liabilities associated with the payment, as it will be considered income.  For purposes of this debt relief program, a “socially disadvantaged producer” is one who is Black or African American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Hispanic or Latino, Asian American or Pacific Islander.  A producer must indicate the identification on the Customer Data Worksheet, USDA Form AD-2047, filed with the FSA.   Producers who fit into the socially disadvantaged producer definition can update those forms now with the local FSA office.  No other action by a producer who is eligible for the debt relief is necessary, as the FSA will notify producers of the payoff process as it occurs.  For more information, visit this webpage for the USDA’s American Rescue Plan Debt Payments.

Missouri’s Truth in Labeling Law.  In 2018, Missouri enacted a law making it a criminal offense to “misrepresent a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.”  Violators could potentially face up to one year in prison and/or a fine up to $2,000.00.  Shortly after the law went into effect, Turtle Island Foods Inc., a business that makes Tofurky (an alternative meat product) and advocacy groups such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund (collectively the “Plaintiffs”), filed a lawsuit challenging Missouri’s law on the grounds that the law violated the U.S. Constitution including the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Dormant Commerce Clause.  The district court denied Plaintiffs’ request for an injunction determining that Missouri’s law only prohibits companies from misleading consumers.  Plaintiffs then appealed to the federal circuit court.  Last month the Eighth Circuit Court issued its opinion and agreed with the district court.  However, the Eighth Circuit noted that the facts of this specific case did not support overturning Missouri’s law, but that facts and circumstances of another case may provide otherwise.  As it stands, Missouri’s law remains in full force and effect. 

Renewable Fuel Standard deadlines extended.  The EPA issued its final rule extending deadlines for obligated parties to comply with Renewable Fuel Standard deadlines for 2019 and 2020.  Under the extension, small refineries must submit 2019 compliance forms by November 30, 2021, and their associated attest engagement forms by June 1, 2022.  For 2020, obligated parties must submit their compliance documents by January 31, 2022, and their associated attest engagement reports by June 1, 2022.  Lastly, the EPA extended the deadline for obligated parties to submit attest engagement reports for 2021 to September 1, 2022, the deadline for 2021 compliance documents remains unchanged. 

Ohio man sentenced for stealing grain.  How often do you hear of farmers being victims of theft and a criminal on the run?  Well, last month an Ohio man was sentenced to one year in prison and 5 years of probation after stealing over $94,000.00 in harvested grain.  The defendant took his employer’s gravity wagon full of grain and sold it to a local co-op in Ashland County under false pretenses.  After the theft was discovered, the defendant fled from Ohio, eventually having to be extradited from New Mexico.  This case demonstrates just how vulnerable farmers are to potential crimes.  For more information on intentional harm to farm property and your rights, check out our law bulletin.

Iowa passes agricultural trespass law.  Iowa lawmakers have recently passed a new law that will make certain types of trespass on Iowa farms a criminal offense in an effort to stop animal activists and others from secretly documenting activities.  House File 775 makes it illegal to take soil or water samples and samples of an animal’s bodily fluids or other byproducts.  Additionally, the law makes it a crime to place or use a camera on the farm property without the owner’s consent.  Proponents of the law argue that such laws are necessary to protect private property rights and prevent bioterrorism.  Opponents of the bill are expected to challenge the law on First Amendment grounds.  

USDA discussing current issues surrounding shipping U.S. agricultural exports.  USDA had a meeting with the U.S. Department of Transportation and agricultural stakeholders to discuss the challenges of exporting U.S. agricultural products.  Challenges arose in the fall of 2020 and have only continued to get worse.  With the resurgence of international trade, nearly every sector of the supply chain has been under stress, including warehousing, trucking, rail service, container availability, and vessel service.  Farmers have long struggled with finding a market for their products and getting a fair price for their work.  With worldwide markets opening back up, the USDA and the Department of Transportation are hard at work trying to ensure that U.S. farm products reach consumers across the globe. 

Farmers to Families Food Box program to end May 31, 2021.  As part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program announced in April 2020, the Farmers to Families Food Box program was designed and implemented as a temporary relief effort to purchase produce, dairy, and meat products from American farmers and distribute these products in family-sized boxes to Americans in need.  In a letter to stakeholders, the USDA announced that due to the improving economy and the access food insecure Americans have to expanded federal nutritional programs like SNAP, WIC, P-EBT, and more, the need for the Farmers to Families Food Box program no longer exists.  The USDA also stated that the lessons learned from the Farmers to Food Box program will continue to be implemented in current and future programs.  The USDA has already begun to offer a fresh produce box on a temporary basis through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and is in the process of designing a Dairy Donation Program to facilitate the timely donation of dairy products to nonprofit organizations that distribute food to persons in need and to help prevent and minimize food waste. 

Grant program to enhance the waters of Lake Erie.  The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has announced that the USDA has awarded ODA’s Division of Soil and Water Conservation a five-year, $8-million grant to help improve the water quality in Lake Erie.  The program will reinforce Governor Mike Dewine’s H2Ohio initiative by assisting farmers in developing nutrient management plans and conservation practices.  The grant will be available to farmers in Crawford, Erie, Huron, Marion, Ottawa, Richland, Sandusky, Seneca, Shelby, and Wyandot counties.  Farmers can start applying for the program through their local soil & water district office later this summer.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags replacing the branding iron?  Last year the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposed to approve a rule that would require using  RFID eartags for use on cattle that move across state lines.  While the rule has not yet been finalized, the proposed rule, which is supposed to take effect January 2023, has not been free of controversy.  The USDA believes the use of a RFID tag will provide the cattle industry with the best protection against the rapid spread of animal diseases. Some farmers, on the other hand, feel they should be able to use currently approved methods to maintain their cattle.  To fight for their right, the Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) has filed a lawsuit in a Wyoming Federal Court on behalf of some Wyoming cattle producers.  R-CALF argues that the USDA has improperly used advisory committees to create new rules in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act.  Essentially, R-CALF argues that neither the USDA nor its subcommittees followed correct procedure as required by federal law in order to create this proposed RFID rule.  R-CALF seeks to prevent the USDA from using the recommendations obtained from the subcommittees in violation of federal law and in its place ask the court to require the USDA to revisit the RFID eartag issue with subcommittees that are compliant with federal law.  

All farm employees are set to receive overtime pay in the state of Washington.  Last November the Washington Supreme Court ruled that Washington’s exclusion of dairy workers from overtime pay was in violation of the state’s constitution.  Since the Washington Supreme Court ruling, several class-action lawsuits were filed against Washington dairy farmers for unpaid overtime hours, threatening to wipe out the Washington dairy industry.  Fearing the worst, Washington legislators worked diligently to pass Senate Bill 5172 ending the overtime exemption for all of agriculture and to make the transition for agricultural employers as smooth as possible.  The prevents lawsuits for unpaid overtime from being filed after the Washington Supreme Court decision and to phase in overtime in the agriculture industry.  Beginning in 2022, agricultural employees will be paid overtime for time worked over 55 hours in any one workweek and by 2024, employees shall be paid overtime for any time worked over 40 hours in any one workweek. Senate Bill 5172 awaits the Washington Governor's signature. 

 

Aerial view of farm and woodland
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

President Biden announced a major goal this week--for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half over the next decade as compared to 2005 levels.  Agriculture will play a key role in that reduction by “deploying cutting-edge tools to make the soil of our heartland the next frontier in carbon innovation,” according to President Biden.  Several bills introduced in Congress recently could help agriculture fulfill that key role.  The proposals offer incentives and assistance for farmers, ranchers, and forest owners to engage in carbon sequestration practices. 

Here’s a summary of the bills that are receiving the most attention.

Growing Climate Solutions Act, S. 1251.  The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee passed S. 1251 today.  The bipartisan proposal led by sponsors Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) already has the backing of over half of the Senate as co-sponsors, including Ohio’s Sen. Sherrod Brown.  The bill has come up in prior sessions of Congress without success, but the sponsors significantly reworked the bill and reintroduced it this week.  The new version includes these provisions:

  • Requires the USDA to conduct an initial assessment of the domestic market for carbon credits, to include assessing market actors, market demand, estimated credits in process, supply and demand of offsets, barriers to entry, monitoring and measurement technologies, barriers for small, beginning and socially disadvantaged operators, among other factors.
  • Creates a Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Certification Program to ensure that technical service assistance providers who work with farmers to establish and sell carbon credits have sufficient expertise, including agricultural and forestry knowledge.  Certified parties are to act in good faith to provide realistic estimates of costs and revenues and to help farmers, ranchers and forester receive “fair distribution of revenues” derived from carbon credit sales. 
  • Establishes an online website providing information for farmers, ranchers and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets.
  • Creates an advisory council that would oversee the certification program.  At least 16 of the committee’s 25 members must be farmers, ranchers, or private forest owners. 
  • Charges the USDA with producing a report to Congress identfying barriers to market entry, challenges raised by farmers and forest owners, market performance, and suggesting additional ways to encourage voluntary participation in carbon sequestration practices.
  • Authorizes up to $9.1 million in USDA funding for the program, including $4.1 million immediately and an additional $1 million per year for the next five years.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) will soon introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.   

Rural Forest Markets Act, S. 1107.  A second proposal in Congress aims to remove barriers for small-scale private forest landowners and help them benefit from carbon markets and other climate solution markets.  Senators Stabenow and Braun are also sponsors of this bill, along with Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).  The bill echoes previous similar legislative attempts and includes these provisions:

  • Directs the USDA to create a Rural Forest Market Investment Program to guarantee up to $150 million to finance eligible projects for rural private forest landowners to participate in an “innovative market for forest carbon or other products.” 
  • States that eligible projects will be those developed by private entities or nonprofits to aggregate sustainable practices by rural private forest landowners for sales in a carbon or environmental market, using approved methodologies. 
  • Requires that eligible tree planting projects may take place only on historically forested lands using native species and be planted at ecologically appropriate densities without causing negative impacts to biodiversity or the environment.

The interest in carbon reduction practices and monetizing carbon sequestration at the federal level doesn’t end with these two proposals—there are several more that may gain interest.   While not addressing private landowners, another Senate proposal focuses on public land reforestation.  The “Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees Act” (REPLANT Act), with Ohio’s Sen. Rob Portman as a sponsor, proposes increased funding in the Reforestation Trust Fund for replanting 1.2 billion trees over the next ten years on public land in need of reforestation.  The USDA is weighing in on the issue as well, and has recently announced plans to target carbon reduction through existing programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program.  And just after passing the Growing Climate Solutions Act today, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee held a hearing on “Farmers and Foresters:  Opportunities to Lead in Tackling Climate Change” featuring testimony from several farmers and groups.  Readers may get a sense of what more is to come by viewing the hearing on the committee’s website

By: Ellen Essman, Monday, August 10th, 2020

Welcome to August! Despite the fact that most of us haven’t seen much besides the inside of our homes lately, the world still turns, which is also true for the gears in Washington D.C.  In this issue of the Ag Law Harvest, we will take a look at some recently introduced and passed federal legislation, as well as a proposed federal rule.

Great American Outdoors Act is a go.  The Great American Outdoors Act, one of the last pieces of legislation introduced by the late Representative John Lewis, was signed into law by the President on August 4.  The new law secures funding for deferred maintenance projects on federal lands.  The funding will come from 50% of the revenues from oil, gas, coal, or alternative energy development on federal lands.  The funding will be broken down between numerous agencies, with 70% to the National Park Service each year, 15% to the Forest Service, 5% to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 5% to the Bureau of Land Management, and 5% to the Bureau of Indian Education.  You can read the law in its entirety here.

A meat processing slowdown for worker safety? In addition to the Great American Outdoors Act, numerous bills have been introduced to help farmers, ag-related businesses, and rural areas in the wake of COVID-19.  For instance, in early July, Ohio’s own Representative from the 11th District, Marcia Fudge, introduced H.R. 7521, which would suspend increases in line speeds at meat and poultry establishments during the pandemic.  Notably, if passed, the bill would “suspend implementation of, and conversion to the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System,” which has been planned since the USDA published the final rule in October of 2019. It would also make the USDA suspend any waivers for certain establishments related to increasing line speed.  The resolution was introduced to protect the safety of workers, animals, and food.  In theory, slower line speeds would make it easier for workers to social distance. This is especially important in the wake of outbreaks among workers at many processing plants.  On July 28, Senator Cory Booker introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

Will livestock markets become more competitive?  On July 9, a group of Representatives from Iowa introduced H.R. 7501.  The bill would amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 “to foster efficient markets and increase competition and transparency among packers that purchase livestock from producers.  To achieve this outcome, the bill would require packers to obtain at least 50% of their livestock through “spot market sales” every week.  This means that the packers would be required to buy from producers not affiliated with the packer. “Unaffiliated producers” would have less than a 1 percent equity interest in the packer (and vice versa), no directors, employees, etc. that are directors, employees, etc. of the packer, and no fiduciary responsibility to the packer.  Additionally, the packer would not have an equity interest in a nonaffiliated producer.  Basically, this bill would make it easier for independent producers to sell to packers. This bill is a companion to a Senate Bill 3693, which we discussed in a March edition of the Ag Law Harvest. According

New bill would make changes to FIFRA.  Just last week, a new bill was proposed in both the House and Senate that would alter the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.  The bill is called the “Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act of 2020.” In a press release, the sponsoring Senator, Tom Udall, and Representative, Joe Neguse, explained that the proposed law would ban organophosphate insecticides, neonicotinoid insecticides, and the herbicide paraquat, which are linked to harmful effects in humans and the environment.  Furthermore, the law would allow individuals to petition the EPA to identify dangerous pesticides, close the loopholes allowing EPA to issue emergency exemptions and conditional registrations to use pesticides before they are fully vetted, allow communities to pass tougher laws on pesticides without state preemption, and press the pause button on pesticides found to be unsafe by the E.U. or Canada until they undergo EPA review.  Finally, the bill would make employers report pesticide-caused injuries, direct the EPA to work with pesticide manufacturers on labeling, and require manufacturers to include Spanish instructions on labels.  You can read the text of the bill here

USDA AMS publishes proposed Organic Rule.  Moving on to federal happenings outside Congress, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service published a proposed rule on August 5. The rule would amend current regulations for organic foods by strengthening “oversight of the production, handling certification, marketing, and sale of organic agricultural products.” The rule would make it easier to detect any fraud, trace organic products, and would make organic certification practices for producers more uniform.  Anyone interested in commenting on this proposed rule has until October 5, 2020 to do so.  You can find information on how to submit a comment on the website linked above. 

By: Ellen Essman, Friday, January 17th, 2020

Lawsuits against the U.S. EPA and individual states seem to be a popular strategy to address water pollution problems.  Last April, we wrote about Lucas County, Ohio and its suit against the EPA over water quality in the western basin of Lake Erie.  Since that time, a federal judge has given another lawsuit concerning Lake Erie, filed by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), the green light.  But not all litigation concerns Ohio waters—recently, Maryland’s attorney general was directed to sue the EPA and Pennsylvania over water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.   Here are summaries of these two developments.

Environmental Law & Policy Center vs. EPA

We wrote about this lawsuit in February 2019, when ELPC had just filed its complaint.  Essentially, ELPC contended that the U.S. EPA violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) when it allowed the Ohio EPA to designate Lake Erie as an impaired water body without instituting a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for pollutants going into the lake.  You can get more details on this case by reading our blog post, here.  Subsequently, EPA moved to dismiss the complaint.  In addition, Lucas County joined ELPC as co-plaintiffs. 

On November 13, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio denied EPA’s motion to dismiss.  Judge James Carr ruled that the case can go forward, finding that ELPC “plausibly alleges that Ohio EPA has clearly and unambiguously refused to develop a TMDL for Western Lake Erie.” This means that the action will go forward and that ELPC will be able to argue the case on the merits.  You can read the ruling here.

Maryland to sue EPA, Pennsylvania

Meanwhile, in Maryland, the governor recently sent a letter to the state’s attorney general asking him to “commence litigation” against the EPA for “failing to enforce the Chesapeake Bay” TMDL, and against its upstream neighbor, Pennsylvania, for “repeatedly falling short of necessary pollution reduction goals.” At the center of this controversy is Pennsylvania’s draft Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP), which Maryland’s governor alleges will cause Pennsylvania to fall far behind its 2025 pollution reduction targets in addition to not meeting the TMDL.  The governor asserts that by accepting Pennsylvania’s WIP with very few changes, the EPA is failing to enforce Pennsylvania’s compliance with the established TMDL.

What’s next?

It typically takes these types of lawsuits a while to work through the courts. The way the courts decide these cases will affect how TMDLs are viewed.  Are TMDLs necessary under the CWA and enforceable, as the plaintiffs claim? Or are TMDLs simply soft goals and guidelines for reducing pollution that EPA does not necessarily have to enforce?  Ultimately, outcomes of these cases could have implications for agricultural runoff, which can be a contributor to pollution in both Lake Erie and the Chesapeake Bay. 

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