Environmental

Ohio's Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, January 28th, 2021

Not long after its 10th anniversary, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) received a hefty package celebrating its success.  Congress passed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2019 last month, not only reauthorizing the GLRI for another five years but also significantly increasing its funding levels.  The annual funds for GLRI will grow from $300 to $330 million in 2021, to $375 million in 2022, and up another $25 million per year until reaching $475 million in 2026.   The GLRI had been set to expire at the end of 2021 and faced funding threats in recent years.  The boost in funding with solid bi-partisan support, however, suggests long term viability for the GLRI.   

The GLRI began in 2010 with the goals of making water safe to drink and fish safe to eat, reducing harmful algal blooms, protecting native habitat and species and prohibiting invasive species in the Great Lakes basin.  It does so by awarding grants for projects that aim to restore and protect the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes basin.  In its ten-year history, GLRI has funneled $2.7 billion into over 5,000 projects in the eight states that comprise the Great Lakes ecosystem. 

In Ohio, GLRI has funded projects for the removal of dams, agricultural best management practices, stream restoration, coastal wetlands, management of invasive species, and clean-up of contaminated sediments in Ohio’s four targeted “areas of concern,” which include the Ashtabula, Black, Cuyahoga, and Maumee Rivers.  Ohioans can expect to see more of these and other projects in the coming years. 

For more on the GLRI, visit this link.

Go to this page to view the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2019.

Excessive water drainage across field
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Ohio’s “petition ditch laws” are at last receiving a major revision.  The Ohio General Assembly has passed H.B. 340, updating the laws that address the installation and maintenance of drainage works of improvement through the petition process.  Some of Ohio’s oldest laws, the drainage laws play a critical role in maintaining surface water drainage on Ohio lands but were in serious need of updating.

An updating process began over seven years ago with the Ohio Drainage Law Task Force convened by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO).   CCAO charged the Task Force with the goals of clarifying ambiguous provisions in the law and embracing new technology and processes that would result in greater efficiencies, fewer misunderstandings and reduced legal costs for taxpayers.  Task Force members included county commissioners, county engineers and staff, county auditors, Soil and Water Conservation District professionals, Ohio Farm Bureau staff, and Ohio State University's Agricultural & Resource Law Program and other OSU faculty.  Rep. Bob Cupp sponsored the resulting H.B. 340, which received unanimous approval from both the House of Representatives and Senate.

Here are a few highlights of the legislation:

  • Mirroring the timeframes, deadlines, notices, and hearings and appeals procedures for petitions filed with the county engineer and with the county soil and water conservation district.
  • The use of technology may substitute for a physical view of a proposed drainage improvement site.
  • The minimum width of sod or seeded strips will be ten feet rather than four feet; maximum width remains at fifteen feet.
  • The entire amount of sod or seeded strips will be removed from the taxable valuation of property, rather than the current provision removing only land in excess of four feet.
  • Factors to consider for petition approval are the same for SWCD board of supervisors and county engineers, and include costs versus benefits of the improvement, whether improvement is necessary, conducive to public welfare, will improve water management and development and will aid lands in the area by promoting economic, industrial, environmental or social development.
  • Clarification that the lead county in a multi-county petition is the county in which a majority of the initial length of the proposed improvement would exist, and assignment of responsibilities to officials in the lead county.
  • The bond amount for county engineer petitions increases to $1,500 plus $5 for each parcel of land in excess of 200 parcels.
  • Additional guidance for factors to be considered when determining estimated assessments.
  • Current law allows county commissioners to repair an existing drainage improvement upon complaint of an assessed owner if the cost doesn’t exceed $4,000.  The new law increases that amount to $24,000 and allows payment of repair assessments in 10 semiannual installments rather than four.

We’re working with other Task Force members to prepare detailed explanations of the bill’s provisions and a guideline of the new procedures.  County engineers and SWCD offices will begin following the revised law on the bill’s effective date of March 18, 2021, just in time for Spring rains and drainage needs.

Go here to read H.B. 340. 

National Agriculture Library and National Agricultural Law Center

Ohio waterway
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, January 06th, 2021

Written by Jeffrey Lewis, Attorney and Research Specialist, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Ohio is thirsty for some quality H2O, but the legislature has recently struggled with how to get it.  After debating two separate water quality bills for over a year, the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate finally passed H.B. 7 in December.  The bi-partisan bill aims to improve water quality in Ohio’s lakes and rivers but doesn’t establish a permanent H2Ohio Trust Fund as the House had first proposed. 

Even so, H.B. 7 will help fund and implement Governor Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio program.  DeWine unveiled his water quality plan in 2019 to help reduce phosphorus runoff, prevent algal blooms, and prevent lead contamination in Ohio’s waterways. In July 2019, the Ohio General Assembly invested $172 million to fund the H2Ohio initiative.  H.B. 7 continues those efforts by creating a statewide Watershed Planning and Management Program and directing the Ohio Department of Agriculture to implement a pilot program to assist farmers and others in phosphorus reduction efforts.

Here’s a summary of the specifics included in H.B. 7, delivered to Governor DeWine on December 30 and awaiting his signature.

Watershed planning and management program

The new Watershed Planning and Management Program established by the bill aims to improve and protect Ohio’s lakes and rivers. The Director of Agriculture will be responsible for appointing watershed planning and management coordinators throughout the seven watershed districts in Ohio.  The coordinators will be responsible for identifying sources and areas of water with quality impairment, engaging in watershed planning, restoration, protection, and management activities, collaborating with other state agencies involved in water quality activities, and providing an annual report to the Director of Agriculture regarding their region’s watershed planning and management.

Certification program for farmers

A certification program for farmers in northwestern Ohio is already up and running at ODA.  Even so, H.B. 7 confirms that the legislature intends to collaborate with organizations representing agriculture, conservation, and the environment and institutions of higher education engaged in water quality research to establish a certification program for farmers who utilize practices designed to minimize impacts to water quality.  H.B. 7 requires the Director of Agriculture to undertake all necessary actions to ensure that assistance and funding are provided to farmers who participate in the certification program.

Watershed pilot program to reduce phosphorus in Ohio’s water

H.B. 7 authorizes but does not require the Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Lake Erie Commission, the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission, and the Ohio State University Extension, to establish a pilot program that assists farmers, agricultural retailers, and soil and water conservation districts in reducing phosphorous and dissolved reactive phosphorous in a watershed.  The program, if established, would be funded from the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s budget for water quality initiatives.  Funding must be used for purchases of equipment, soil testing, implementation of variable rate technology, tributary monitoring, drainage management strategies, and implementation of nutrient best management practices.

Public record exemption for voluntary Nutrient Management Plans

Currently, a person who owns or operates agricultural land may develop and implement a voluntary nutrient management plan. A voluntary nutrient management plan provides for the proper application of fertilizer. An individual that implements a proper voluntary nutrient management plan receives an affirmative defense in any civil lawsuit involving the application of the fertilizer. In addition to the affirmative defense offered by using a voluntary nutrient management plan, H.B. 7 specifies that the information, data, and associated records used in the development and execution of a voluntary nutrient management plan is not a public record and is not subject to Ohio’s laws governing public records.

Regional water and sewer districts expanded authority

In addition to political subdivisions, regional water and sewer districts will have the authority to make loans, grants, and enter into cooperative agreements with any person, which includes a natural person, a firm, a partnership, an association, or a corporation, for water resource projects.

Also, regional water and sewer districts will be able to expand to whom they can offer discounts to for water and sewer services. Currently, districts can only offer discounts to persons who are 65 or older and who are of low or moderate income or qualify for the homestead exemption. H.B. 7 allows those discounts to be offered to any person who is considered of low or moderate income or that qualifies for the homestead exemption.

CAUV eligibility of land used for biofuel production

Unrelated to water quality, H.B. 7 also modifies the requirements that land used in biofuel production must meet in order to be valued for property taxes at its current agricultural use value (CAUV). Currently, land used for biofuel production qualifies for the CAUV program if:

  1. The production facility is located on, or on property adjoining, farmland under common ownership; and
  2. At least 50% of the feedstock used in the production comes from land under common ownership or leasehold.

H.B. 7 makes three changes:

  1. Instead of the 50% feedstock requirement, House Bill 7 requires that, of the feedstock used in biofuel production, at least 50% must be “agricultural feedstock” (manure or food waste) and at least 20% of the “agricultural feedstock” must come from land under common ownership or leasehold.
  2. None of the feedstock used in biofuel production can include human waste.
  3. The biofuel production facility may be part of, or adjacent to, farmland that is under common leasehold or common ownership.

 

Useful links:   Ohio General Assembly web page for H.B. 7.

USDA National Agricultural Library and National Agricultural Law Center

By: Ellen Essman, Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

In case you didn’t notice, we are deep into election season.  Discussion of Supreme Court vacancies, presidential debates, and local races abound.  Even with all the focus on the election, the rest of the world hasn’t stopped. The same is true for ag law.  This edition of the Harvest includes discussion of ag-related bills moving through the Ohio General Assembly, federal lawsuits involving herbicides and checkoff programs, and some wiggle room for organic producers who have had a hard time getting certified with all the pandemic-related backups and shutdowns. 

Changes to Ohio Drainage Law considered in Senate—The Ohio Senate’s Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee continues to hold hearings on HB 340, a bill that would revise drainage laws.  The bill was passed in the house on June 9, 2020.  The 157 page bill would amend the current drainage law by making changes to the process for proposing, approving, and implementing new drainage improvements, whether the petition is filed with the board of the Soil and Water Conservation District, the board of county commissioners, or with multiple counties to construct a joint county drainage improvement.  The bill would further apply the single county maintenance procedures and procedures for calculating assessments for maintenance to multi-county ditches and soil and water conservation districts.  You can find the current language of the bill, along with a helpful analysis of the bill, here

Purple paint to warn trespassers? Elsewhere in the state Senate, SB 290 seems to be moving again after a lengthy stall, as it was recently on the agenda for a meeting of the Local Government, Public Safety & Veterans Affairs Committee.  If passed, SB 290 would allow landowners to use purple paint marks to warn intruders that they are trespassing.  The purple paint marks can be placed on trees or posts on the around the property.  Each paint mark would have to measure at least three feet, and be located between three and five feet from the base of the tree or post.  Furthermore, each paint mark must be “readily visible,” and the space between two marks cannot be more than 25 yards.  You can see the text, along with other information about the bill here

Environmental groups look to “Enlist” more judges to reevaluate decision.  In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided it would not overturn the EPA registration for the herbicide Enlist Duo, which is meant to kill weeds in corn, soybean, and cotton fields, and is made up of 2,4-D choline salt and glyphosate.  Although the court upheld registration of the herbicide, it remanded the case so that EPA could consider how Enlist affects monarch butterflies.  The court found that EPA failed to do this even though it was required under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  On September 15, 2020, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other groups involved in the lawsuit filed a petition to rehear the case “en banc,” meaning that the case would be heard by a group of nine judges instead of just three.  If accepted, the rehearing would involve claims that the EPA did not follow the Endangered Species Act when it made the decision to register Enlist Duo. 

R-CALF USA has a “beef” with federal checkoff program.  Earlier this month, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) sued the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  R-CALF USA has filed a number of lawsuits involving the Beef Checkoff program over the years, including several that are on-going.  Their argument, at its most basic, is that the Beef Checkoff violates the Constitution because ranchers and farmers have to “subsidize the private speech of private state beef councils through the national beef checkoff program.” In this new complaint, R-CALF USA alleges that when USDA entered into MOUs (memorandums of understanding) with private state checkoff programs in order to run the federal program, its actions did not follow the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).  R-CALF USA argues that entering into the MOUs was rulemaking under the APA.  Rulemaking requires agencies to give notice to the public and allow the public to comment on the rule or amendment to the rule.  Since USDA did not follow the notice and commenting procedures when entering into the MOUs, R-CALF USA contends that the MOUs violate the APA.  R-CALF USA further argues that did not consider all the facts before it decided to enter into the MOUs, and therefore, the agency’s decision was arbitrary and capricious under the APA.  You can read R-CALF USA’s press release here, and the complaint here

Flexibility for organics during COVID-19. Back in May, due to COVID uncertainty and state shutdowns, the Risk Management Service (RMS) stated that approved insurance providers “may allow organic producers to report acreage as certified organic, or transitioning to organic, for the 2020 crop year if they can show they have requested a written certification from a certifying agent by their policy’s acreage reporting date.” RMS’s original news release can be found here. In August, RMS extended that language. The extension will provide certification flexibility for insurance providers, producers, and the government in the 2021 and 2022 crop years.  Other program flexibilities may apply to both organic and conventional producers.  Information on those can be found here.

By: Ellen Essman, Wednesday, September 09th, 2020

Despite the fact that “pumpkin spice” everything is back in stores, it is still summer, and if you’re anything like me, you’re still dealing with weeds. In fact, we have been receiving many questions about noxious weeds lately.  This blog post is meant to be a refresher about what you should do if noxious weeds sprout up on your property.

What are noxious weeds?

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) is in charge of designating “prohibited noxious weeds.”  The list may change from time to time, but currently, noxious weeds include:

  • Shatter cane (Sorghum bicolor)
  •  Russian thistle (Salsola Kali var. tenuifolia).
  • Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense ).
  •  Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa).
  • Grapevines (Vitis spp.), when growing in groups of one hundred or more and not pruned, sprayed, cultivated, or otherwise maintained for two consecutive years.
  • Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense ).
  • Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum).
  •  Cressleaf groundsel (Senecio glabellus).
  • Musk thistle (Carduus nutans).
  • Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).
  • Mile-A-Minute Weed (Polygonum perfoliatum).
  • Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum).
  • Apple of Peru (Nicandra physalodes).
  • Marestail (Conyza canadensis)
  • Kochia (Bassia scoparia).
  • Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri).
  • Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata).
  • Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum).
  • Yellow Groove Bamboo (Phyllostachys aureasculata), when the plant has spread from its original premise of planting and is not being maintained.
  • Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis).
  • Heart-podded hoary cress (Lepidium draba sub. draba).
  • Hairy whitetop or ballcress Lepidium appelianum).
  • Perennial sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis).
  • Russian knapweed (Acroptilon repens).
  • Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula).
  • Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium).
  • Serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma).
  • Columbus grass (Sorghum x almum).
  • Musk thistle (Carduus nutans).
  • Forage Kochia (Bassia prostrata).
  • Water Hemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus).

The list of noxious weeds can be found in the Ohio Administrative Code section 901:5-37-01. In addition to this list, Ohio State has a guidebook that will help you identify noxious weeds in Ohio, which is available here.  It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the weeds in the book, so you can be on the lookout for noxious weeds on your property.

When am I responsible for noxious weeds?

The Ohio Revised Code addresses noxious weeds in different parts of the code. When it comes to noxious weeds on the property of private individuals, there are two scenarios that may apply: noxious weeds on private property, and noxious weeds in line fence rows.  

 Noxious weeds on your property

If your property is located outside of a municipality, a neighbor or another member of the public can inform the township trustees in writing that there are noxious weeds on your property. If this happens, the township trustees must then turn around and notify you about the existence of noxious weeds. After receiving a letter from the trustees, you must either destroy the weeds or show the township trustees why there is no need for doing so. If you do not take one of these actions within five days of the trustees’ notice, the township trustees must cause the weeds to be cut or destroyed, and the county auditor will assess the costs for destroying the weeds against your real property taxes.  If your land is in a municipality, similar laws apply, but you would be dealing with the legislative authority, like the city council, instead of township trustees.

What if you rent out your land out to be farmed or otherwise?  Are you responsible for noxious weeds on your property in that situation?  The answer is probably.  The law states that the board of township trustees “shall notify the owner, lessee, agent, or tenant having charge of the land” that they have received information about noxious weeds on the property (emphasis added).  Furthermore, the law says that the “person notified” shall cut or destroy the weeds (or have them cut or destroyed).  In all likelihood, if you own the land, you are going to be the person who is notified by the trustees about the presence of weeds.  If you rent out your property to be farmed or otherwise, you may want to include who is responsible for noxious weeds in the language of the lease.    

Noxious weeds in the fence row

The “line fence law” or “partition fence law” in Ohio requires landowners in unincorporated areas to cut all noxious weeds, brush, briers and thistles within four feet and in the corners of a line fence. A line fence (or partition fence) is a fence that is on the boundary line between two properties. If you fail to keep your side of the fence row clear of noxious weeds and other vegetation, Ohio law provides a route for adjacent landowners concerned about the weeds. First, an adjacent landowner must request that you clear the fence row of weeds and must allow you ten days to do so. If the weeds still remain after ten days, the complaining landowner may notify the township trustees of the situation. Then, the township trustees must view the property and determine whether there is sufficient reason to remove weeds and vegetation from the fence row. If they determine that the weeds should be removed, the township trustees may hire someone to clear the fence row.  Once again, if this occurs, the county auditor will assess the costs of destruction on your property taxes. 

Being aware of noxious weeds is key. 

As a landowner, it is really important for you to keep an eye out for noxious weeds on your property.  If you keep on top of the weeds, cutting them or otherwise destroying them as they grow, it will certainly make your life a lot easier. You will avoid awkward conversations with neighbors, letters from your township trustees, and extra charges on your property taxes. Additionally, you will help to prevent the harm that noxious weeds may cause to crops, livestock, and ecosystems in general.

 To learn more about Ohio’s noxious weed laws, you can access our law bulletin on the subject here.  While the bulletin addresses the responsibilities of landowners, it also goes beyond the scope of this blog post, addressing weeds on roadways, railroads, and public lands, as well as how to respond if your neighbor has noxious weeds on their property.  Additionally, the bulletin has a helpful section of “frequently asked questions” regarding noxious weeds. 

By: Ellen Essman, Friday, August 21st, 2020

This edition of the Ag Law Harvest is heavily focused on recent environmental case law at the federal level.  Read on to find out how habitats, migratory birds, environmental and administrative laws, and Trump’s new Waters of the United States rule have fared in recent decisions. 

 

What does “habitat” mean to you? Think about it carefully, because now is your chance to provide your input to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  Readers of the blog may remember we reported on a Supreme Court case dealing with critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) a few years ago.  The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Court of Appeals was charged with interpreting the word “habitat.” The Court of appeals then punted the interpretation to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, where the parties settled the case.  Even with a settlement, the question of what “habitat” means remains.  To remedy this omission, the FWS and NMFS published a proposed rule on August 5th to define “habitat” under the ESA.  In this proposal, FWS and NMFS put forward two possible definitions of “habitat”:

  • The physical places that individuals of a species depend upon to carry out one or more life processes. Habitat includes areas with existing attributes that have the capacity to support individuals of the species; or
  • The physical places that individuals of a species use to carry out one or more life processes. Habitat includes areas where individuals of the species do not presently exist but have the capacity to support such individuals, only where the necessary attributes to support the species presently exist.

The agencies are asking for public comment on the two definitions, and “on whether either definition is too broad or too narrow or is otherwise proper or improper, and on whether other formulations of a definition of ‘habitat’ would be preferable to either of the two definitions, including formulations that incorporate various aspects of these two definitions.” The comment period is open until September 4, 2020. 

Will a lawsuit stop planned changes to NEPA? At the end of July, a number of environmental groups banded together and filed a 180-page complaint against the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).  The complaint challenges the Council’s update to rules under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).  The groups’ basic argument is that the CEQ, under the direction of the Trump administration, published a new administrative rule under NEPA, but did not follow the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which governs agency actions, when doing so.  The lawsuit alleges: “[r]ather than make this drastic change deliberately and with the careful process the APA requires, CEQ cut every corner. The agency disregarded clear evidence from over 40 years of past implementation; ignored the reliance interests of the citizens, businesses, and industries that depend on full and complete NEPA analyses; and turned the mandatory public engagement process into a paper exercise, rather than the meaningful inquiry the law requires.” Basically, the groups argue that the administration ignored the APA all together.  Why is this important? The environmental groups argue that the new rule essentially makes it possible for the federal government to push through projects that might have impacts on citizens and the environment, such as pipelines and roadways, much more quickly, and without much input from the public.  You can read the final NEPA rule here.  We will have to wait and see whether the court agrees that the APA was violated in the creation of this rule. 

Ruling on Migratory Bird Act clips the administration’s wings. Another lawsuit against the federal government was decided on August 11, 2020.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York sided with a number states as well as environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation. The Court found that the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and FWS (at the direction of the administration) could not overturn 50 years of DOI interpretations of what “killings” and “takings” of birds meant under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 with a single memo. Traditionally, the killing or taking any migratory bird, even accidentally or incidentally, has been interpreted as a violation of the Act.  DOI’s memo sought to change this, only making the Act only apply to intentional hunting, killing, or taking.  Essentially, if a business or person had a pond full of wastewater, and migratory birds swam in it, eventually killing the birds, it would only be “incidental” taking and not intentional under DOI’s logic in the memo.  Ultimately, Judge Valerie Caproni channeled Atticus Finch by stating “It is not only a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a crime,” meaning that one memorandum could not overturn the fact that incidental and accidental takings of birds are still takings punishable by the Act. 

  Another WOTUS lawsuit bites the dust.  There’s always something going on with the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.  In April, the Trump administration published its final rule on WOTUS, which replaced the Obama administration’s beleaguered rule from 2015.  Almost immediately, the rule was challenged in court by those who thought it went too far in protecting waters, as well as those who felt it didn’t go far enough.  The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, which falls into the latter camp, filed suit against the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the 2015 rule, later amending their complaint to address the 2020 rule.  The Association claimed that both the old and new rules went too far, and that EPA did not have the authority to carry them out under the Clean Water Act.  The judge dismissed the Association’s case without prejudice for lack of standing, meaning that the issue may be litigated again, but the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association could not show that its members are being negatively affected by the 2020 rule at this time. 

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: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

In a decision that turns largely on scientific methodology and reliable data, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday allowed continued registration of the Enlist Duo herbicide developed by Dow AgroScience (Corteva).  Unlike last month’s decision that vacated registrations of three dicamba herbicides, the two-judge majority on the court held that substantial evidence supported the EPA’s decision to register the herbicide.  Even so, the court sent one petition back to the EPA to further consider the impact of Enlist Duo on monarch butterflies in application areas. One dissenting judge would have held that the science used to support the Enlist Duo registration violates the Endangered Species Act.

The case began in 2014, when the same organizations that challenged the dicamba registrations (National Family Farm Coalition, Family Farm Defenders, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety and Pesticide Action Network North America) and the Natural Resources Defense Council each filed petitions challenging the EPA’s registration of Enlist Duo.  The EPA later amended the registration in 2015 and 2017, eventually allowing use of the herbicide on corn, soybeans and cotton in 34 states.  The petitioners challenged the 2015 and 2017 registrations as well, and the Ninth Circuit consolidated the challenges into the case at hand.

The court’s opinion begins with an explanation of why it agreed with the parties who brought the challenges that they had the legal right to do so, or had “associational standing.”   Likely of higher interest to our readers is how the court answered the questions of whether the EPA adequately examined the potential impacts of Enlist Duo under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Here’s what the court had to say about the petitioners’ claims under each law:

The FIFRA claims.  The monarch butterfly issue was the only successful FIFRA claim advanced by the petitioners.  The court agreed that the EPA didn’t properly assess adverse harm to monarch butterflies that would result from increased 2,4-D use on milkweed in application fields, despite evidence suggesting that the butterflies might be adversely affected.  The EPA stated that it didn’t do so because the approval of Enlist Duo would not change the amount of milkweed being controlled by herbicides—those milkweeds would still be controlled with or without Enlist Duo.  The court disagreed, stating that FIFRA required the agency to determine whether any effect was “adverse” before then determining whether the effect on the environment was unreasonable, which EPA didn’t do in regard to the monarch butterfly.

The court rejected all of the petitioners’ other arguments under FIFRA:

Applicable standards.  Several claims that the EPA applied the wrong FIFRA registration standards failed.  The agency correctly used the broader and more stringent standard, which was to determine whether the registration would cause any unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.   

Increased glyphosate use.  Petitioners also argued that the EPA erred in determining that approval of Enlist Duo would not cause unreasonable adverse effects on environment because glyphosate was already being used.  The registration would only impact which glyphosate was being used but not how much glyphosate was in use.  The court agreed with EPA’s assertion that due to the “nearly ubiquitous use” of glyphosate across the country before the approval of Enlist Duo registration, there would not be an increase in overall glyphosate use and no increased risks.   Interestingly, the court distinguished increased use from new data about glyphosate use, stating that “this does not mean, of course, that new data about glyphosate will go unconsidered….”

Volatility risk.  The court also rejected volatility risk arguments, one of the science-heavy parts of the opinion (begin at page 37 for a good read).  The EPA had concluded the type of 2,4-D in Enlist Duo exhibits lower volatility and off-site vapor drift than other forms of 2,4-D.  EPA reached this conclusion based several studies and data points:  a laboratory study that examined degree of visual damage, six publicly available studies assessing plant growth and survival damage, data from a vapor flux study used to perform computer modeling to determine dose level and air concentration in order to predict adverse damages to plants off-field, a second type of modeling that assesses drift of wet and dry depositions, and atmospheric monitoring data.  Petitioners claimed limitations to the studies and methodology used, contradictions between EPA scientists, failure to follow regulatory guidelines and to consider large enough field sizes in its modeling.  The court commented that the evaluation of volatility “probably could have been better,” but found no evidence showing that EPA’s conclusion was wrong or that volatility fears had materialized since approval of the herbicide.  The court explained that the agency may apply its expertise to draw conclusions from probative preliminary data and “it is not our role to second-guess EPA’s conclusion.” 

Mixing risks.  Petitioners also argued that Dow intended to mix Enlist Duo with glufosinate and EPA failed to account for the synergistic effect of such mixing.  With no evidence other than an abandoned patent application for a mixed product by Dow, the court held that FIFRA doesn’t require an analysis of theoretical tank mixing but only that which is contemplated on the label. 

Nearly all of the EPA’s FIFRA decisions were supported by substantial evidence, the court concluded, with the exception of the monarch butterfly analysis. 

The ESA claims.   Science is a recurring theme in the court’s analysis of the petitioners’ ESA arguments, and also the source of sharp disagreement on the court.  ESA’s section 7 requires a determination of the biological impacts of a proposed action.  ESA consultation among the agencies is required if determined that an agency’s action “may affect” a listed species or critical habitat in an “action area.”   The petitioners claimed that EPA failed in its determination on several grounds, requiring the court to review whether the EPA’s determination was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or contrary to law.  Here are the arguments, and the court’s responses:

“No effect” finding.  The petitioners argued that the EPA erred in determining that Enlist Duo approval would have “no effect” on plant and animal species and the court responded with another lengthy science-heavy discussion of “risk quotient” methodology and legal requirements  to use the “best scientific and commercial data available.”  The EPA employed a risk quotient methodology to conclude that there would be exposure to the herbicide but that such exposure would not lead to an effect on plants and animals.  The two judges in the majority were willing to defer to the agency on this conclusion and its dependence on the risk quotient methodology, but Judge Watford strongly disagreed.  Pointing out that the National Academy of Sciences had advised the EPA that the risk quotient method was “scientifically unsound,” the dissent concluded that the data derived from the methodology did not qualify as “scientific data” and therefore violated the ESA.   The majority stated that the risk quotient methodology doesn’t violate the duty to use the best scientific and commercial data available, which means that the EPA must not disregard available scientific evidence that is better and does not require the agency to conduct new tests or make decisions on data that doesn’t exist.   Deference to the agency was warranted, said the majority, and restraint against second guessing or using the court’s judgment.

Action area.   For its ESA determination, the EPA limited the “action area” to treated fields, while petitioners argued that the herbicide would drift beyond treated fields.  Again turning to the EPA’s science, the court held that the agency had science-based reasons for limiting the target area.  The EPA had appropriately accounted for drift through empirical data, mitigation measures, and label restrictions and no evidence in the record supported that the agency had made an error.

Critical habitat.  The final argument advanced by petitioners was that EPA did not meet its duty to insure that there would be no “adverse modification” of critical habitat from the registration.  Although there were 154 species with critical habitats in the states where Enlist Duo would be approved, EPA concluded that 176 of the species would not be in corn, cotton or soybean fields.  Of the eight species remaining, the agency determined that there would be no modification to their critical habitats as a result of Enlist Duo registration because none of the species’ essential features or “primary constituent elements” were related to agriculture.  Petitioners challenged the methodology EPA employed to reach this conclusion, but the court once again disagreed and deferred to the agency.

What remedy?

With only the monarch butterfly impact analysis in need of further study, the Ninth Circuit declined the petitioners’ request to vacate the Enlist Duo registration.   The court chose instead to remand the petition without vacating the registration, stating that the EPA’s failure to consider harm to monarch butterflies was technical and not a “serious” error.  Pointing also to the “disruptive” consequences of removing a pesticide that has been in use for over five years, the court stated that vacatur was not warranted when the EPA had substantially complied with FIFRA and fully complied with the ESA.

What’s next?

Enlist Duo registration will continue.  The EPA must address evidence that its destruction of milkweed in fields harms monarch butterflies, however.  The court advised the agency to “move promptly” in doing so.

Further action by the petitioners is likely.  According to correspondence with DTN, the petitioners are disappointed and will fight the decision.  They will likely also follow the EPA’s science quite closely as it reexamines the monarch butterfly issue.

Read the Ninth Circuit's decision National Family Farm Coalition et al v. U.S. EPA and Natural Resources Defense Council v. Wheeler, here.

By: Ellen Essman, Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

Since the advent of the Clean Water Act (CWA), states have attempted to address agricultural nutrient pollution through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit (NPDES) system. But legal challenges have plagued state NPDES permit programs from their beginnings, and litigation has become a common tool for reducing water quality impacts from manure and other agricultural nutrients. States have developed their own water quality laws and policies, and there have been legal challenges to those as well. These legal challenges arise from environmental interests and impacted neighbors and communities and can be pre-emptive or reactionary. Our newest report for the National Agricultural Law Center examines litigation involving agricultural nutrients from 2018 through 2020. 

In the report, the cases are broken down into several categories. We examine what the courts have to say when it comes to NPDES permits for individual farms and whether they are properly issued by states, whether or not the government (state and federal) is following its own laws and regulations when carrying out water pollution policies, the validity of state CAFO General Discharge permits, and whether or not neighboring landowners have redress for potential agricultural runoff. Some of the cases are challenges to state water quality laws, or the issuance of an NPDES permit.  A few other cases directly target agricultural producers.  The report is entitled Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality: Recent Litigation in the United States, and can be found here

In addition to the paper, we also recently updated part of our nutrient management project on the National Agricultural Law Center’s website.  The project was first published last year, and includes a report and a state chart. The chart tracks which states require nutrient management plans, nutrient application restrictions, and certification and education for nutrient applicators, and can be found here. The chart also provides links to states’ nutrient management laws and regulations.  A few changes and additions have been made to state laws and regulations within the chart.

The USDA’s National Agriculture Library funded our research on these related projects, which we conducted in partnership with the National Agricultural Law Center. 

By: Ellen Essman, Friday, June 26th, 2020

Dicamba, Roundup, WOTUS, and ag-gag: although there are important updates, this week’s Harvest topics could be considered some of the Ag Law Blog’s “greatest hits.”   In addition to these ongoing issues, a bill that is meant to encourage farmers to participate in carbon markets was recently introduced in the Senate. June has certainly been a busy month. 

Decisions on dicamba. If you’ve been following along with our blog posts over the past few weeks, you know that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the registration of several over-the-top dicamba products, and in response, the EPA announced that all such products in farmers’ possession must be used before July 31, 2020 (our last post on the topic is available here).  The Ohio Department of Agriculture went a step further, making the final date for dicamba use in the state June 30, 2020, due to the state registrations expiring on that day.  Since the Ninth Circuit decision, the companies that produce dicamba products such as Engenia and, FXapan, and XtendiMax have filed numerous motions with the Ninth Circuit.  On June 25, the court declined a motion from the BASF Corporation, which makes Engenia, asking the court to pause and withdraw their decision from the beginning of the month.  What does this mean?  Basically, at this moment, the court’s ruling still stands, and use of certain over-the-top products will have to cease on the dates mentioned above.  That’s the latest on this “volatile” issue. 

Bayer settles Roundup lawsuits, but this probably isn’t the end. Bayer, the German company that purchased Monsanto and now owns rights to many of the former company’s famous products, has been fighting lawsuits on multiple fronts.  Not only is the company involved in the dicamba battle mentioned above, but over the past few years it has had a slew of lawsuits concerning Roundup. On June 24, Bayer, the German company that now owns the rights to Roundup, announced that it would settle around 9,500 lawsuits.  The lawsuits were from people who claimed that Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, had caused health problems including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  The amount of the settlement will be between 8.8 and 9.6 billion dollars.  Some of that money will be saved for future Roundup claims.  Although many are involved in this settlement, there are still thousands of claims against Bayer for litigants who did not want to join the settlement. 

Updated WOTUS still not perfect. As always, there is an update on the continuing saga of the waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.  If you recall, back in April, the Trump administration’s “final” WOTUS rule was published.  Next, of course, came challenges of the rule from both sides, as we discussed in a previous Harvest post.  Well, the rule officially took effect (in most places, we’ll get to that) June 22, despite the efforts of a group of attorneys general from Democratically-controlled states attempting to halt the implementation of the rule.  The attorneys general asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California a nationwide preliminary injunction, or pause on implementation of the rule until it could be sorted out in the courts.  The district court judge denied that injunction on June 19. On the very same day, a federal judge in Colorado granted the state’s request to pause the implementation of the rule within the state’s territory.  Remember that the 2015 rule was implemented in some states and not others for similar reasons.  The same trend seemingly continues with Trump’s replacement rule.  In fact, numerous lawsuits challenging the rule are ongoing across the country.  A number of the suits argue that rule does not go far enough to protect waters.  For instance, just this week environmental groups asked for an injunction against the rule in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  Environmental organizations have also challenged the rule in Maryland, Massachusetts, and South Carolina district courts.  On the other hand, agricultural groups like the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association have filed lawsuits arguing that the rule is too strict.

  No more ag-gag in NC?  We have mentioned a few times before on the blog that North Carolina’s ag-gag law has been embroiled in a lawsuit for several years (posts are available here).  North Carolina’s version of “ag-gag” was somewhat different from other states, because the statute applied to other property owners, not just those involved in agriculture. The basic gist of the law was that an unauthorized person entering into the nonpublic area of a business was liable to the owner or operator if any damages occurred.  This included entering recording or surveilling conditions in the nonpublic area, which is a tool the plaintiffs use to further their cause. In a ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina was decided largely in the plaintiffs’ (PETA, Animal Legal Defense Fund, etc.) favor. In order to not get into the nitty gritty details of the 73-page ruling, suffice it to say that the judge found that that law did violate the plaintiffs’ freedom of speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Another ag-gag law bites the dust. 

Carbon markets for farmers?  And, now for something completely different. In the beginning of June, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators introduced the “Growing Climate Solutions Act.”  On June 24, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held its first hearing on the new bill, numbered 3894.  The text of SB 3894 is not currently available online, but it would create “a certification program at USDA to help solve technical entry barriers that prevent farmer and forest landowner participation in carbon credit markets.”  The barriers “include[] access to reliable information about markets and access to qualified technical assistance providers and credit protocol verifiers” and “have limited both landowner participation and the adoption of practices that help reduce the costs of developing carbon credits.” You can read the Committee’s full press release about the bill here. It is backed by several notable businesses and groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, and McDonalds and Microsoft. 

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