ag law harvest

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. 

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

Written by Ellen Essman and Peggy Kirk Hall

Many people are still working from home, but that hasn’t stopped legal activity in Washington, D.C.  Bills have been proposed, federal rules are being finalized, and new lawsuits are in process.  Here’s our gathering of the latest ag law news.

SBA posts Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness application.  We’ve been waiting to hear more about how and to what extent the SBA will forgive loans made under the CARES Act’s PPP that many farm businesses have utilized.  The SBA recently posted the forgiveness application and  instructions for applicants here.  But there are still unanswered questions for agricultural applicants as well as talk in Congress about changing some of the forgiveness provisions, suggesting that loan recipients should sit tight rather than apply now.  Watch for our future blog post and a discussion on the forgiveness provisions in our next Farm Office Live webinar.    

House passes another COVID-19 relief bill.  All predictions are that the bill will go nowhere in the Senate, but that didn’t stop the House from passing a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief package on May 15.  The “HEROES Act” includes a number of provisions for agriculture, including an additional $16.5 billion in direct payments to producers of commodities, specialty crops and livestock, as well as funds for local agriculture markets, livestock depopulation losses, meat processing plants, expanded CRP, dairy production, other supply chain disruptions, and biofuel producers (discussed below).  Read the bill here.

Proposed bipartisan bill designed to open cash market for cattle.  Last week, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Democratic Senator Jon Tester introduced a bill that “would require large-scale meatpackers to increase the proportion of negotiable transactions that are cash, or ‘spot,’ to 50 percent of their total cattle purchases.” The senators hope this change would bring up formula prices and allow livestock producers to better negotiate prices and increase their profits. In addition, the sponsors claim ithe bill would provide more certainty to a sector hard hit by coronavirus.  Livestock groups aren’t all in agreement about the proposal.  You can read the bill here, Senator Grassley’s press release here and Senator Tester’s news release here. 

New Senate and House bills want to reform the U.S. food system.  Representative Ro Khanna from California has introduced the House companion bill to the Senate's Farm System Reform Act first introduced by Senator Cory Booker in January.  The proposal intends to address underlying problems in the food system.  The bill places an immediate moratorium on the creation or expansion of large concentrated animal feeding operations and requires such operations to cease by January 1, 2040.  The proposal also claims to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act and requires country of origin labeling on beef, pork, and dairy products.  The bill would also create new protections for livestock growers contracted by large meat companies, provide money for farmers to transition away from operating animal feeding facilities, strengthen the term “Product of the United States” to mean “derived from 1 or more animals exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered” in the U.S., and, similar to the Grassley/Tester bill above, require an increased percentage of meatpacker purchases to be “spot” transactions.

Lawmakers ask Trump to reimburse livestock producers through FEMA.  In another move that seeks to help livestock producers affected by the pandemic, a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives sent a letter to Donald Trump imploring him to issue national guidance to allow expenses of livestock depopulation and disposal to be reimbursed under FEMA's Public Assistance Program Category B.  The lawmakers reason that FEMA has "been a valued Federal partner in responding to animal losses due to natural disasters," and that the COVID-19 epidemic should be treated "no differently."  You can read the letter here.

More battling over biofuels.  Attorneys General from Wyoming, Utah, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and West Virginia have sent a request to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to waive the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) because of COVID-19 impacts on the fuel economy. The letter states that reducing the national quantity of renewable fuel required would alleviate the regulatory cost of purchasing tradable credits for refiners, who use the credits to comply with biofuel-blending targets.   Meanwhile, 70 mayors from across the U.S. wrote a letter urging the opposite, and criticizing any decisions not to uphold the RFS due to the impact that decision would have on local economies, farmers, workers, and families who depend on the biofuels industry.  The House is also weighing in on the issue.  In its recently passed HEROES Act, the House proposes a 45 cents per gallon direct payment to biofuel producers for fuels produced between Jan 1 and May 1, 2020 and a similar payment for those forced out of production during that time.  

New USDA rule for genetically engineered crops.  A final rule concerning genetically engineered organisms is set to be published this week.  In the rule, USDA amends biotechnology regulations under the Plant Protection Act.  Importantly, the new rule would exempt plants from regulation by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) if the plants are genetically engineered but the same outcome could have occurred using conventional breeding.  For instance, gene deletions and simple genetic transfers from one compatible plant relative to another would be exempted.  If new varieties of plants use a plant-trait mechanism of action combination that has been analyzed by APHIS, such plants would be exempt.  You can read a draft of the final rule here.

Trump’s new WOTUS rule attacked from both sides of the spectrum.  A few weeks ago, we wrote about the Trump Administration’s new “waters of the United States” or WOTUS rule.  Well, it didn’t take too long for those who oppose the rule to make their voices heard. The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association (NMCGA) sued the administration, claiming that the new rule is still too strict and leaves cattle ranchers questioning whether waters on their land will be regulated.  In their complaint, NMCGA argues that the new definition violates the Constitution, the Clean Water Act, and Supreme Court precedent.  On the other side, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), along with other conservation groups, sued the administration, but argued that the new rule does not do enough to protect water and defines “WOTUS” too narrowly.  Here we go again—will WOTUS ever truly be settled?

The Farm Office is Open!  Join us for analysis of these and other legal and economic issues facing farmers in the Farm Office Team’s next session of “Farm Office Live” on Thursday, May 28 at 9:00 a.m.  Go to this link to register in advance or to watch past recordings.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, April 10th, 2020

Although many of us are quarantined at home these days, the gears of the legal world are still turning.  Here’s our gathering of recent notable news and legal developments:

Our Farm Office is open Monday night!  Join us for the Farm Office’s live online office hours this Monday night from 8—9:30 p.m.  Our team of experts will provide updates on the Paycheck Protection Program and the dairy economy and discuss COVID-19 macro-economic and export impacts, BWC dividends, property tax concerns, potential legal issues arising from COVID-19, and other issues you want to discuss.  Register at https://go.osu.edu/farmofficelive.    

What’s the deal with dicamba?  Our partner, the National Agricultural Law Center, is hosting a free webinar on dicamba litigation on Wednesday, April 15 at noon EST.  "The Deal with Dicamba:  An Overview of Dicamba Related Litigation," will feature attorney Brigit Rollins, who will review each of the dicamba lawsuits, the claims made by the plaintiffs, and what the outcome of each suit could mean for dicamba use in the United States.  Go here to learn more.

Walmart sued for employee’s COVID-19 death.  We’ve been wondering when we’d start seeing COVID-19 lawsuits, and the answer is now.  On Monday, the estate of a Walmart employee in Illinois who died from COVID-19 sued the company for negligence and wrongful death.  The complaint alleges that Walmart failed to properly clean the store or provide employees with masks, gloves, antibacterial wipes and other protective equipment, knew that employees were exhibiting COVID-19 signs and symptoms, and did not screen new employees for COVID-19.  A second employee at the same store has also died of the virus.  Read the complaint here.

Shell eggs go to market.  The FDA issued guidance that eases up packaging and labeling requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic for shell eggs sold directly to consumers in retail food establishments.  The agency explained that it made the change because plenty of shell eggs are available to meet increased consumer demands, but properly labeled retail packaging for the eggs is not.  See the guidance here.

EPA’s glyphosate approval is challenged.  Glyphosate, used in the weed killer Roundup, is in the news again.  This time, the controversy surrounds the EPA’s decision in January 2020 to allow glyphosate to continue being used in the interim while the agency conducts its mandatory 15-year re-approval review.  Although EPA has yet to make its re-approval decision, two groups of plaintiffs have petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for an invalidation of the EPA’s decision allowing continued use in the interim.  Plaintiffs argue that the decision violates both the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and the Endangered Species Act because the EPA has not gathered enough information to prove that glyphosate is safe for humans, the environment, and endangered species.  You can read the petitions here and here, and EPA’s interim decision here.

No rehearing for RFS litigation.  We reported previously that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held the EPA in violation of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) when it granted RFS blending waivers to three small refineries.  While the Trump administration did not appeal the court’s decision, two of the oil refiners requested a rehearing before the full panel of Tenth Circuit judges.  This week, those requests were rejected by the Tenth Circuit, starting a 90-day period during which the refiners may petition for a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court.

ODNR suspends hunting and fishing license sales for non-residents.  The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced this week that it is “temporarily suspending the sale of non-resident hunting and fishing licenses until further notice” to further discourage travel into the state.  ODNR has no set date to lift the suspension; it will be in place as long as state COVID-19 orders dictate.  Read ODNR’s press release here.

BWC gives dividends and deferrals.  The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation board decided yesterday to pay dividends to employers for BWC premiums to the tune of up to $1.6 billion.  Checks will go out to employers later in April, and will equal approximately 100% of the BWC premiums paid in their 2018 policy years.   The agency is also allowing employers to delay unpaid premium installments due for March through May until June 1, 2020 and will not lapse coverage or assess penalties for amounts not paid due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  See this FAQ for details.

 

By: Ellen Essman, Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

Hello, readers! We hope you are all staying safe and healthy. Understandably, news related to agricultural law seems to have slowed down a little bit over the last few weeks as both the federal and state governments have focused mainly on addressing the unfolding COVID-19 outbreak.  That being said, there have been a few notable ag law developments you might be interested in.

Federal government extends the tax deadline.  The IRS announced on March 21 that the deadline for filing or paying 2019 federal income taxes will be extended to July 15, 2020. 

Ohio Coronavirus Legislation. The Ohio General Assembly quickly passed House Bill 197 on Wednesday March 25, 2020.  HB 197 originally just involved changes to tax laws, but amendments were added to address the current situation.  Amendments that made it into the final bill include provisions for education—from allowing school districts to use distance learning to make up for instruction time, to waiving state testing.  Other important amendments make it easier to receive unemployment, move the state tax filing deadline to July 15, extend absentee voting, allow recently graduated nurses to obtain temporary licenses, etc. Of particular note to those involved in agriculture, HB 197 extends the deadlines to renew licenses issued by state agencies and political subdivisions.  If you have a state license that is set to expire, you will have 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted to renew the license.  HB 197 is available here. A list of all the amendments related to COVID-19 is available here.

Proposed changes to hunting and fishing permits in Ohio. In non-COVID news, Ohio House Bill 559 was introduced on March 18.  HB 559 would allow grandchildren to hunt or fish on their grandparents’ land without obtaining licenses or permits.  In addition, the bill would give free hunting and fishing licenses or permits to partially disabled veterans.  You can get information on the bill here

EPA simplifies approach to pesticides and endangered species. Earlier this month, the U.S. EPA released its “revised method” for determining whether pesticides should be registered for use.  Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), federal agencies must consider whether an action (in this case, registration of a pesticide) will negatively impact federally listed endangered species. EPA is authorized to make decisions involving pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The revised method consists of a three-step process.  First, EPA will consider whether use of the pesticide “may affect” or conversely, have no effect on the listed species. If no effect is found, EPA can register the pesticide.  On the other hand, if EPA finds that the pesticide may affect the endangered species, it must examine whether the pesticide is “likely to adversely affect” the species. In this second step, if EPA decides that the pesticide may affect the endangered species, but is not “likely to adversely affect” the species, then the agency may register the pesticide with the blessing of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  Conversely, if EPA finds that the pesticide is likely to adversely affect the species, it must move on to step three, where it must work with FWS or NMFS to more thoroughly examine whether an adverse effect will “jeopardize” the species’ existence or “destroy or adversely modify its designated critical habitat.”  The revised method is meant to simplify, streamline, and add clarity to EPA’s decision-making. 

EPA publishes rule on cyazofamid tolerances. Continuing the EPA/pesticide theme, on March 18, EPA released the final rule for tolerances for residues of the fungicide cyazofamid in or on commodities including certain leafy greens, ginseng, and turnips. 

Administration backs off RFS.  In our last edition of the Ag Law Harvest, we mentioned that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had handed a win to biofuels groups by deciding that EPA did not have the authority to grant three waivers to two small refineries in 2017. By granting the waivers, the EPA allowed the refineries to ignore the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and not incorporate biofuels in with their oil-based fuels. The Tenth Circuit decision overturned this action. The Trump administration has long defended EPA’s action, so that’s why it’s so surprising that the administration did not appeal the court’s decision by the March 25 deadline. 

Right to Farm statute protects contract hog operation.  If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you may recall that many nuisance lawsuits have been filed regarding large hog operations in North Carolina. In Lewis v. Murphy Brown, LLC, plaintiff Paul Lewis, who lives near a farm where some of Murphy Brown’s hogs are raised, sued the company for nuisance and negligence, claiming that the defendant’s hogs made it impossible for him to enjoy the outdoors and caused him to suffer from several health issues. Murphy Brown moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the nuisance claim should be disqualified under North Carolina’s Right to Farm Act, and that the negligence claim should be barred by the statute of limitations.  The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina made quick work of the negligence claim, agreeing with Murphy Brown that the statute of limitations had passed.  North Carolina’s Right to Farm Act requires a plaintiff to show all of the following: that he is the legal possessor of the real property affected by the nuisance, that the real property is located within one-half mile of the source of the activity, and that the action is filed within one year of the establishment of the agricultural operation or within one year of the operation undergoing a fundamental change.  Since the operation was established in 1995 and the suit was not brought until 2019, and no fundamental change occurred, the court determined that Lewis’s claim was barred by the Right to Farm Act.  Since neither negligence or nuisance was found, the court agreed with Murphy Brown and dismissed the case. 

By: Ellen Essman, Tuesday, March 10th, 2020

In Ohio and around the country, farmers are gearing up for a new planting season.  Spring is (almost) here! Before we leave winter totally behind, we wanted to keep you up to date on some notable ag law news from the past few months.

Here’s a look at what’s going on in ag law across the country…

New law signed to ramp up ag protections at U.S. ports of entry. Last summer, a bill was introduced in the United States Senate by a bipartisan group of senators.  The purpose of the bill was to give more resources to Customs and Border Control (CBP) to inspect food and other agricultural goods coming across the U.S. border.  On March 3, 2020, the President signed the bill into law.  The new law authorizes CBP to hire and train more agricultural specialists, technicians, and canine teams for inspections at ports of entry.  The additional hires are meant to help efforts to prevent foreign animal diseases like African swine fever from entering the United States.  You can read the law here.

The Renewable Fuel Standard gets a win.  We reported on Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) issues last fall, and it seems as though the battles between biofuel producers and oil refineries have spilled over into 2020.  For a refresher, the RFS program “requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to replace the quantity of petroleum-based transportation fuel” and other fuels.  Renewable fuels include biofuels made from crops like corn, soybeans, and sugarcane.  In recent years, the demand for biofuels has dropped as the Trump administration waived required volumes for certain oil refiners.  As a result, biofuels groups filed a lawsuit, asserting that EPA did not have the power to grant some of the waivers it gave to small oil refiners.  On January 24, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed with the biofuels groups.  You can find the 99-page opinion here. If you’re not up for that bit of light reading, here’s the SparkNotes version: the court determined that EPA did not have the authority to grant three waivers to two small refineries in 2017.  The court found that EPA “exceeded its statutory authority” because it extended exemptions that had never been given in the first place. To put it another way, the court asked how EPA could “extend” a waiver when the waiver had not been given in previous years. The Trump Administration is currently contemplating whether or not to appeal the decision. 

Virginia General Assembly defines “milk.” To paraphrase Shakespeare, does “milk by another name taste as sweet?” Joining the company of a number of other states that have defined “milk” and “meat,” the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill on March 4, 2020 that defines milk as “the lacteal secretion, practically free of colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of a healthy hooved mammal.” The bill would make it illegal to label products as “milk” in Virginia unless they met the definition above.  Essentially, products like almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, coconut milk, etc. would be misbranded if the labels represent the products as milk.  Governor Ralph Northam has not yet signed or vetoed the bill. If he signs the bill, it would not become effective until six months after 11 of 14 southern states enact similar laws. The 11 states would also have to enact their laws before or on October 1, 2029 for Virginia’s law to take effect.  The states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.  North Carolina has already passed a similar law. 

And now, for ag law in our neck of the woods.

Purple paint bill reintroduced in Ohio.  You may recall that the Ohio General Assembly has been toying with the idea of a purple paint law for the past several years.  On March 4, 2020, Senator Bill Coley (R-Liberty Township) once again introduced a purple paint bill.  What exactly does “purple paint” mean? If passed, the bill would allow landowners to put purple paint on trees and/or fence posts. The marks would have to be vertical lines at least eight inches long, between three and five feet from the base of the tree or post, readily visible, and placed at intervals of at most 25 yards. If the bill passed, such marks would be sufficient to inform those recklessly trespassing on private property that they are not authorized to be there.  People who recklessly trespass on land with purple paint marks would be guilty of a fourth degree criminal misdemeanor.  You can read the bill here.

Bill giving tax credits to beginning farmers considered. Senate Bill 159, titled “Grant tax credits to assist beginning farmers” had a hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee on March 3, 2020.  The bill, introduced last year, seeks to provide tax incentives to beginning farmers who participate in an approved financial management program, as well as to businesses that sell or rent agricultural land, livestock, facilities, or equipment to beginning farmers. A nearly identical bill is being considered in the House, HB 183. Back in February, Governor Mike DeWine indicated he would sign such a bill if it passed the General Assembly.  SB 159 is available here, and HB 183 is available here.

By: Ellen Essman, Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019

Written by: Ellen Essman and Peggy Hall

October is almost over, and while farmers have thankfully been busy with harvest, we’ve been busy harvesting the world of ag law.  From meat labeling to RFS rules to backyard chickens and H-2A labor certification, here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news you may want to know:

Federal judge upholds Missouri’s meat labeling law—for now.  Missouri passed a law in 2018, which among other things, prohibited representing a product as “meat” if it is not derived from livestock or poultry.  As you can imagine, with the recent popularity of plant-based meat products, this law is controversial, and eventually led to a lawsuit.  However, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. decided not issue a preliminary injunction that would stop the Missouri Department of Agriculture from carrying out the labeling law.  He reasoned that since companies like Tofurky, who brought the suit, label their products as plant-based or lab-grown, the law does not harm them.  In other words, since Tofurky and other companies are not violating the law, it doesn’t make sense to stop enforcement on their account. Tofurky, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the good Food Institute have appealed Judge Gaitan’s decision, asserting that Missouri’s law infringes upon their right to free speech.  This means that the Missouri law can be enforced at the moment, but the decision is not final, as more litigation is yet to come.  

Oregon goes for cage-free egg law.   In August, Oregon passed a new law that would require egg-laying chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, or guinea fowl to be kept in a “cage-free housing system.” This law will apply to all commercial farms with more than 3,000 laying hens.  A cage-free housing system must have both indoor and outdoor areas, allow the hens to roam unrestricted, and must have enrichments such as scratch areas, perches, nest boxes and dust bathing areas.  As of January 1, 2024, all eggs sold in the state of Oregon will have to follow these requirements for hens.  The law does allow hens to be confined in certain situations, like for veterinary purposes or when they are part of a state or county fair exhibition. 

City can ban backyard chickens, says court.   The Court of Appeals for Ohio’s Seventh District upheld the city of Columbiana’s ordinances, which ban keeping chickens in a residential district, finding that they were both applicable to the appellant and constitutional. In this case, the appellant was a landowner in Columbiana who lived in an area zoned residential and kept hens in a chicken coop on his property.  The appellant was eventually informed that keeping his hens was in violation of the city code.  A lawsuit resulted when the landowner would not remove his chickens, and the trial court found for the city. The landowner appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing that he did not violate the city ordinances as they were written, and that the city applied the ordinances in an arbitrary and unreasonable way because his chickens did not constitute a nuisance. Although keeping chickens is not explicitly outlawed in Columbiana, the Court of Appeals for Ohio’s Seventh District found that reading the city’s zoning ordinances all together, the “prohibition on agricultural uses within residential districts can be inferred.”  Furthermore, the court pointed out that the city’s code did not ban chickens in the whole city, but instead limited them to agricultural districts, and that the prohibition in residential areas was meant to ensure public health.  For these reasons, the court found that the ordinances were not arbitrarily and unreasonably applied to the appellant, and as a result, the ordinances are constitutional.  To read the decision in its entirety, click here. 

EPA proposes controversial Renewable Fuel Standard rule.   On October 15, EPA released a notice of proposed rulemaking, asking for more public comment on the proposed volumes of biofuels to be required under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program in 2020.  The RFS program “requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to replace the quantity of petroleum-based transportation fuel” and other fuels.  Renewable fuels include biofuels made from crops like corn, soybeans, and sugarcane.  In recent years, the demand for biofuels has dropped as the Trump administration waived required volumes for certain oil refiners.  The administration promised a fix to this in early October, but many agricultural and biofuels groups feel that EPA’s October 15 proposed rule told a different story. Many of these groups are upset by the proposed blending rules, claiming that way the EPA proposes calculate the biofuel volumes would cause the volumes to fall far below what the groups were originally promised by the administration. This ultimately means the demand for biofuels would be less.  On the other hand, the EPA claims that biofuels groups are misreading the rule, and that the calculation will in fact keep biofuel volumes at the level the administration originally promised. The EPA plans to hold a public hearing on October 30, followed by a comment period that ends November 29, 2019.  Hopefully the hearing and comments will help to sort out the disagreement. More information is available here, and a preliminary version of the rule is available here.

New H-2A labor certification rule is in effect.    The U.S. Department of Labor has finalized one of many proposed changes to the H-2A temporary agricultural labor rules.  A new rule addressing labor certification for H-2A became effective on October 21, 2019.  The new rule aims to modernize the labor market test for H-2A labor certification, which determines whether qualified American workers are available to fill temporary agricultural positions and if not, allows an employer to seek temporary migrant workers.   An employer may advertise their H-2A job opportunities on a new version of the Department’s website, SeasonalJobs.dol.gov, now mobile-friendly, centralized and linked to third-party job-search websites.  State Workforce Agencies will also promote awareness of H-2A jobs.  Employers will no longer have to advertise a job in a print newspaper of general circulation in the area of intended employment. For the final rule, visit this link.

And more rules:  National Organic Program rule proposals.  The USDA has also made two proposals regarding organic production rules.  First is a proposed rule to amend the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for organic crops and handling.  The rule would allow blood meal made with sodium citrate to be used as a soil amendment, prohibit the use of natamycin in organic crops, and allow tamarind seed gum to be used as a non-organic ingredient in organic handling if an organic form is not commercially available.  That comment period closes on December 17, 2019.  Also up for consideration is USDA’s request to extend the National Organic Program’s information collection reporting and recordkeeping requirements, which are due to expire on January 31, 2020.  The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service specifically invites comments by December 16, 2019 on:  (1) whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility; (2) the accuracy of the agency's estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used; (3) ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and (4) ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology.

Great Lakes restoration gets a boost from EPA.  On October 22, 2019, the EPA announced a new action plan under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).  The plan will be carried out by federal agencies and their partners through fiscal year 2024.  Past GLRI action plans have removed environmental impairments on the lakes and prevented one million pounds of phosphorus from finding its way into the lakes.  The plans are carried out by awarding federal grant money to state and local groups throughout the Great Lakes, who use the money to carry out lake and habitat restoration projects.  Overall, the new plan’s goals are to remove toxic substances from the lakes, improve and delist Areas of Concern in the lakes, control invasive species and prevent new invasive species from entering the lakes, reduce nutrients running off from agriculture and stormwater, protect and restore habitats, and to provide education about the Great Lakes ecosystem.  You can read EPA’s news release on the new plan here, and see the actual plan here. We plan to take a closer look at the plan and determine what it means for Ohio agriculture, so watch for future updates!

 

By: Evin Bachelor, Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

It’s been a busy July in the ag law world, to say the least.  The Ohio General Assembly officially passed the hemp bill and a budget, RMA adjusted its prevent plant restrictions, and we have seen more activity on LEBOR.  With everything that is going on, it’s time for another ag law harvest.  Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news you may want to know:

Ohio Department of Agriculture announces website for future hemp program.  Just days after S.B. 57 took effect, the Ohio Department Agriculture (ODA) launched a new webpage declaring “Hemp Is Now Legal.”  However, the webpage goes on to explain that hemp cultivation, processing, and research licenses, which are required to legally do those activities, are not yet available as the rules and regulations have not been developed.  ODA says the goal is to have farmers licensed and able to start planting hemp by spring 2020.  As for CBD, the webpage says that it is now legal to sell properly inspected CBD products in Ohio.  Note the “properly inspected” caveat.  ODA wants to test CBD products for safety and accurate labeling before the product is sold to Ohio consumers.  If they have not already done so, those wanting to sell CBD products should contact ODA to have their product tested.  You can view the new webpage HERE.

Judge says $2 billion damages award is too much in Roundup case.  A California state judge recently reduced the punitive damages award granted to Alva and Alberta Pilliod from $2 billion to $69 million, and reduced their compensatory damages from $55 million to $17 million.  All combined, the couple would still receive $86.7 million in damages.  As we previously discussed, the couple successfully convinced a jury that the glyphosate in Roundup significantly contributed to causing their non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  In reducing the awards, the judge explained that the punitive damages were excessive and unconstitutional because they exceeded the U.S. Supreme Court’s restrictions.  However, the judge denied Bayer’s request to strike the punitive damages award outright.

U.S. EPA denies petition to ban use of cholrpyrifos pesticide.  Back in 2007, environmental groups petitioned to have the U.S. EPA revoke tolerances and registrations for the insecticide chlorpyrifos, citing harmful effects to people and nature.  Without getting into the merits of the allegations, the timeline and history of the U.S. EPA’s decision is fairly interesting.  The U.S. EPA had not completed its review of the chemical by 2015, so the groups took the agency to court, where they received a court order compelling the U.S. EPA to make a decision.  The agency issued a proposed rule at the end of 2015 that would have revoked the tolerances; however, the federal court said that the U.S. EPA had not completed a full review nor properly responded to the 2007 petition.  Even though it made a decision, the court wanted to see more evidence of a full administrative review.  By the time the agency had a chance to fully review the chemical’s effects, the Obama EPA had turned into the Trump EPA.  In March 2017, the U.S. EPA issued a denial order regarding the petition, which essentially threw out the petition.  The environmental groups submitted an objection shortly after the denial order.  By July 2019, the U.S. EPA had a chance to think some more and issued a final order denying the objections.  As it stands now, the agency has decided not to revoke tolerances or registrations for chlorpyrifos.  To read the agency’s final order denying the objections, click HERE.

Animal Disease Traceability program to require RFID tagging for cattle and bison by 2023.  The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is looking to fully bring animal disease traceability into the digital world, at least for beef and dairy cattle and bison.  By requiring radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, the service says that animal health officials would be able to locate specific animals within hours of learning about a disease outbreak, significantly less than with paper records.  Starting at the end of 2019, the USDA will stop providing free metal tags, but would allow vendors to produce official metal tags until the end of 2020.  At that time, only RFID tags may be used as official tags.  Starting on January 1, 2023, RFID tags will be required for beef and dairy cattle and bison moving interstate.  Animals previously tagged with metal ear tags will have to be retagged, but feeder cattle and animals moving directly to slaughter will be exempt.  To learn more, view the USDA’s “Advancing Animal Disease Traceability” factsheet HERE.

Senators want to fund more ag and food inspectors at U.S. ports of entry.  Citing the national interest to protect the nation’s food supply, four U.S. Senators have introduced a bill that would provide the U.S. Customs and Border Protection with additional funding over the next three years.  In each of the three fiscal years, the funds would be used to hire, train, and assign 240 additional agriculture specialists, 200 new agriculture technicians who provide support to the agriculture specialists, and 20 new canine teams.  The personnel would work at U.S. ports of entry, including seaports, land ports, and airports across the country.  If passed, S.2107 would require the Comptroller General of the United States to brief congressional committees one year after the bill’s enactment on how well federal agencies are doing at coordinating their border inspection efforts and how the agriculture specialists are being trained.  The bill comes months after U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized nearly a million pounds of Chinese illegally smuggled pork from China, where African swine fever has ravaged the country’s pork industry.  For more information about the bill, click HERE.

Cannabis decriminalization bill introduced in Congress.  Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has introduced H.R. 3884 with the aim to do four things: 1) decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, 2) remove cannabis from the federal controlled substances schedules, 3) provide resources and rehabilitation for certain people impacted by the war on drugs, and 4) expunge certain criminal convictions with a cannabis connection.  The bill currently has 30 co-sponsors, including 29 Democrats and 1 Republican.  None of Ohio’s members of Congress have signed on as a co-sponsor at this time.  The bill follows the recent change in status for hemp, which found favor in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills.  However, that change in status was largely predicated on the argument that hemp is not marijuana, so it remains to be seen whether the political climate is ready to loosen restrictions on marijuana as well.  For more information about the bill, click HERE.

By: Evin Bachelor, Thursday, June 20th, 2019

The OSU Extension Farm Office team has returned from the National Farm Business Conference in Wisconsin.  We gained some fresh perspective on events beyond Ohio’s borders, but are happy to be back in slightly warmer weather.  Our colleagues from across the nation presented on a variety of farm management topics, and we had a chance to discuss some of our recent projects.  We also toured a number of dairy and agritourism farms, and of course ate lots of cheese curds.  The fresh perspective means that it is time for a fresh Ag Law Harvest.

Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:

OSU Extension Ag Law Team featured on Agronomy and Farm Management Podcast.  Recently we had a chance to talk with OSU Extension Educators Amanda Douridas and Elizabeth Hawkins, who together moderate the bi-weekly Agronomy and Farm Management Podcast for OSU Extension.  We discussed the status of Ohio’s hemp bill and what we expect to happen in the near future with hemp regulation and production.  Then we provided an update on the Drewes Farm Partnership v. City of Toledo lawsuit, which grapples with the legality of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.  Click HERE to listen to the podcast, and look for episode 28.

Minnesota focuses new commercial nitrogen fertilizer regulations on drinking water quality.  In an effort to protect public drinking water sources, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has chosen to regulate the commercial application of fertilizer.  The state has long regulated the application of manure, but not commercial nitrogen.  The regulations focus on two types of geographic areas: regions with vulnerable soil (coarse soils, karst geology, or shallow bedrock) and farms located in Drinking Water Supply Management Areas.  These management areas are designated based upon nitrate levels found in the drinking water.  Starting in 2020, the state will ban the application of commercial nitrogen in these areas during the fall months and on frozen ground.  Farms in any of the 30 Drinking Water Supply Management Areas would have to follow best management practices to start, but if nitrate levels continue to exceed state limits, then the state may impose additional restrictions in an area to reduce nitrogen pollution.  For more information on Minnesota’s Groundwater Protection Rule, click HERE.

Federal court puts a hold on Bud Light’s “100 percent less corn syrup” ads.  If they missed seeing it live during the Super Bowl, most people in the agricultural industry have at least seen the recent Bud Light advertising campaign that claims the beer uses no corn syrup while its competitors do.  Shortly after the initial release of the ad, MillerCoors sued Anheuser-Busch, which makes Bud Light.  MillerCoors wants a permanent injunction that would stop Bud Light from continuing its corn syrup advertising campaign, arguing that the advertisements are false and misleading to consumers.  The first step to a permanent injunction is often a preliminary injunction, which makes a party act or not act in a certain way only while the case is pending.  The judge presiding over the lawsuit granted MillerCoors’ motion for a preliminary injunction in part.  The judge ordered Anheuser-Busch to temporarily stop using ads mentioning corn syrup if those ads do not contain language explaining that Bud Light does not use corn syrup in the brewing process.  The judge’s act does not ban the ad that premiered during the Super Bowl.  Rather it only blocks ads released later that claim Bud Light uses 100 percent less corn syrup than competitors like MillerCoors.  Click HERE to view the complaint, and HERE to view the judge’s order.

It’s (mostly) official: USDA’s ERS and NIFA are headed to Kansas City.  U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the USDA’s selection of the Kansas City, Missouri region as the new headquarters for the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  The location changed caused a great deal of controversy as some viewed it as a political move.  However, the USDA has maintained that relocation will save millions of dollars over the next few years and put the agencies closer to a number of other USDA offices in Kansas City, such as the Farm Service Agency’s Commodity Operations Office.  The Secretary reduced some of the controversy by scrapping plans to place the agencies under the USDA’s Chief Economist, who is a political appointee.  Before we call the move a done deal, we must note that Congress could stop the plans.  The U.S. House of Representatives might block the move via a Department of Agriculture-FDA spending bill currently under consideration.  Click HERE to read Secretary Perdue’s press release.

Bayer announces multi-billion dollar hunt for glyphosate replacement.  Somewhat buried in a press release titled “Bayer raises the bar in transparency, sustainability and engagement,” Bayer recently announced a substantial investment in its weed management research.  Over the next ten years, the company plans to spend 5 billion euros, or roughly 5.6 billion U.S. dollars, to develop weed control products as alternatives to glyphosate.  The announcement comes at a time with thousands of plaintiffs across the United States have claimed that the widely-used glyphosate caused their cancer.  As we have previously discussed in the Ag Law Blog, the first three juries have in total awarded plaintiffs billions of dollars in damages.  Bayer continues to fight the allegations and defend its product, but the press release marks the first time that Bayer has publically announced a search for an alternative to glyphosate.  It remains to be seen whether the press release could have an impact in the lawsuits, but Bayer will likely try to keep the press release out of the trials by using court rules of evidence.

Ohio House passes amusement ride safety bill.  County fair season has officially kicked off in Ohio, and some state lawmakers want to make sure that amusement rides at those fairs are safe.  House Bill 189 seeks to heighten Ohio’s amusement ride safety inspection standards and impose additional duties on amusement ride owners.  The bill would require the Ohio Department of Agriculture to adopt ride classification rules that identify types of rides needing more comprehensive inspection, along with the minimum number of inspectors and number of inspections for each ride.  Further, the bill would require amusement ride owners to keep a manual for each amusement ride, and make it available upon request of an inspector.  Amusement ride owners would also have to keep records, including documents and photographs, of all major repairs along with all locations where the owner stored or operated each ride.  The bill includes an emergency clause, which would allow it to take effect as soon as the Governor signs it.  Lawmakers named the bill “Tyler’s Law” after the young man who died following an equipment breakdown at the Ohio State Fair in 2017.  Click HERE for more information about the bill.

By: Evin Bachelor, Friday, May 10th, 2019

We might be in the middle of planting season, but it’s time for another harvest!  Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:

Hemp bill completes third hearing in Ohio House committee.  The Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in the Ohio House of Representatives completed its third hearing regarding Senate Bill 57 on Tuesday.  The bill would decriminalize hemp produced under the regulatory system proposed in the bill.  The committee heard testimony from nearly two dozen individuals and organization representatives.  None of the witnesses gave testimony in opposition to the bill.  Nearly all of the testimony, including the testimony given on behalf of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and Ohio Chamber of Commerce, was offered in support of the bill.  The Ohio Farmers Union submitted testimony only as an “interested party” rather than as a “proponent,” saying that it supports the principle of hemp decriminalization, but does not believe that the hemp marketing program established in the current version of the bill would be necessary.  Click HERE to view the witness testimony regarding Senate Bill 57 on the Ohio General Assembly’s webpage.

Food and Drug Administration sets public hearing on cannabis in food and drinks.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set May 31, 2019 as the date of its first hearing on whether to legalize the use of cannabis derived compounds like CBD in foods and drinks.  According to the Federal Register, the hearing is open to the public, and intended for the FDA to obtain scientific data and information about the safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labeling, and sale of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds.  The hearing will be held in Maryland on May 31st, but those wishing to submit written or electronic comments may do so until July 2nd.  Click HERE for more information from the Federal Register about the hearing.

Cattle ranchers file class action suit against major meatpacking companies.  The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) and six other named parties brought suit against major meatpackers, including Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, and National Beef Packing Company.  Filed in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois, the plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that these meatpackers colluded to suppress the price of fed cattle since at least 2015, and that as a result, the plaintiffs suffered significant economic harm from the deflated prices.  When companies agree to set prices for an industry, they engage in collusion, which could violate U.S. antitrust laws.  The 121 page complaint includes a number of charts, graphs, and visuals that explain the alleged economic manipulation, along with a thorough history of an alleged pattern of collusion.  If the federal judge certifies the class as requested, other cattle ranchers will have the choice of whether to be included in the class or not.  This is important in determining whether the unnamed members of the class are bound by a final decision or able to participate in any settlement or final award.  Click HERE to view the complaint and learn more about this lawsuit.

Indiana Right-to-Farm law upheld by Court of Appeals of Indiana.  When a federal court in North Carolina decided that that state’s right-to-farm law did not protect hog barns operated by Smithfield Foods in lawsuits alleging agricultural nuisance, there was concern that right-to-farm laws in the United States may be in trouble.  However, those fears have begun to subside in other states.  As we explained in a previous blog post, Ohio’s right-to-farm law provides greater protections from a nuisance lawsuit than North Carolina’s law.  Further, the Court of Appeals of Indiana recently upheld the use of Indiana’s Right to Farm Act.  In doing so, it upheld a lower court decision that granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant livestock operators.  At the start of the case, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants created a nuisance, acted negligently, and caused a trespass when the defendants constructed and began to operate a new concentrated animal feeding operation in 2013.  However, the defendants cited Indiana’s Right to Farm Act as a defense and won.  The plaintiffs sought to challenge the constitutionality of the Indiana’s Right to Farm Act, but the appellate court found that the law was within the legislature’s proper authority, did not constitute a taking, and did not improperly set farmers apart for preferential treatment.  The original plaintiffs have a few more days to file an appeal with the Indiana Supreme Court.  Click HERE to read the appellate court’s opinion.

State of Washington passes cage-free egg production law.  Washington is set to join states like Massachusetts and California in requiring egg-laying hens to live free of cages.  Once signed into law by the governor, Substitute House Bill 2049 would require poultry operators to use a cage-free housing system that would allow hens to roam within the confined area by 2023.  Further, hens must be “provided enrichments that allow them to exhibit natural behaviors including, at minimum, scratch areas, perches, nest boxes, and dust bathing areas.”  Farm employees must be able to provide care while standing in the hens’ usable floor space.  The bill would also make it illegal to buy, sell, or transport eggs and egg products that were not produced in compliance with the state’s cage free egg production law.  The Humane Society of the United States spearheaded the legislative effort on this bill, which initially passed the Washington House of Representatives 90-6 and the Senate 40-6.  Click HERE for more information about the bill’s status, and HERE to read the final text of the bill.

Missouri legislature considers ending local regulation of CAFOs.  The Missouri General Assembly is considering a pair of bills that would 1) limit the ability of county commissions and health boards from imposing restrictions on confined animal feeding operations that are more stringent than state law, and 2) eliminate the authority of county commissions and health boards from inspecting livestock operations.  So far, each bill has passed one chamber of the Missouri General Assembly, and is being considered in the other chamber.  Supporters argue that the bills would provide for regulatory consistency across the state in light of varying local regulations.  Opponents argue that the bills would harm local jurisdictions from enacting restrictions that better protect the environment than current state law.  This debate is similar to recent and ongoing debates in states like Tennessee and Wisconsin over which entities can regulate confined animal feeding operations, and how much.  Click HERE for more information about Missouri’s Senate Bill 391, and HERE for more information about Missouri’s House Bill 951.

By: Evin Bachelor, Monday, February 18th, 2019

As our readers can probably tell by now, there has been a lot happening in the agricultural law world over the past couple of weeks.  From the Lake Erie Bill of Rights going on the ballot in Toledo to a new court decision on wedding barns, we’ve done our best to keep you in the know.  While the legislative sessions in Congress and the Ohio General Assembly have started to shift into a higher gear, covering those bills will take up a lot of space, so be on the lookout for a legislative update soon.

For now, here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:

Yep, more WOTUS.  The U.S. EPA has announced new public hearings regarding its proposed revised definition of Waters of the United States.  The hearing will be held on Wednesday, February 27th and Thursday, February 28th at the Reardon Convention Center in Kansas City, Kansas.  For those who wish to provide input, but are unable to make the trip, the U.S. EPA will accept written comments from the public online at http://www.regulations.gov with the docket ID number: EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149.  The online comment portal will accept new submissions until April 14th.  The text of the proposed rule, which the U.S. EPA released just in time for Valentine’s Day, is available on the online comment portal page as well as in the Federal Register.  For more information about either attending the meeting or submitting a comment to the U.S. EPA, visit the Federal Register’s webpage here.  For more information about WOTUS rulemaking, see our most recent WOTUS blog post, or visit the U.S. EPA’s webpage here.

Conservation funding for federal lands could be restored under U.S. Senate bill.  In a sign of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate passed the National Resources Management Act by a vote of 92-8.  If the House approves and it receives the President’s signature, the bill would modify a number laws addressing the management and conservation of federal lands, and would also restore funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which had expired last fall.  This fund primarily supports the protection of federal public lands and waters, but it also promotes voluntary conservation on private lands and awards grants to states for the acquisition and development of parks and outdoor recreation sites.  Also in the bill are two specific changes of note for Ohio.  First, section 6004(c) of the bill would increase the cap on total spending for the Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canalway from $10 million to $20 million.  Second, section 2502 of the bill would extend the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail from Illinois to Pennsylvania, which will include portions in Ohio.  You can read the full text of the bill and see the official analyses on Congress’s website here.

FFA charter amendments approved by Congress and the President.  Citing issues arising from the U.S. Department of Education’s not filling seats on the National FFA Board of Directors, the National FFA sought an amendment to its charter.  Congress originally granted the charter in 1950, and any changes to the charter must be done so by an act of Congress.  One of the major changes sought by National FFA was a reduction in the number of seats on the board of directors that must be appointed by the Department of Education.  By not filling all of the seats on the Board of Directors, the National FFA faced difficulty making decisions because it often could not meet its quorum for meetings.  The new amendments reduce the organization’s reliance on an appointment to its board of directors by the U.S. Department of Education, which increases the organization’s ability to self-govern.  You can read the text of the bill on Congress’s website here, or visit the National FFA’s webpage on frequently asked questions about the charter revision here.

The PACT Act is back.  The Prevention of Animal Cruelty and Torture Act has been reintroduced into the U.S. House of Representatives.  The act would allow for significant fines and up to seven years in prison for those convicted of animal crushing, creating animal crushing videos, or distributing animal crushing videos.  The bill defines crushing as “actual conduct in which one or more living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians is purposely crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury.”  However, the bill does contain exceptions for conduct that is related to “customary and normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, or other animal management practice[s];” “the slaughter of animals for food;” legal hunting, trapping, and fishing activities; research; defense of a human; and euthanizing an animal.  Many in the agriculture community have opposed the bill, arguing that it is duplicative in light of animal protections created by the states and that it risks courts and juries interpreting the language too broadly.  At this time, the bill has only been introduced in the U.S. House and referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Nebraska wind farms sue to enforce contract and keep utility from flying off into the sunset.  Three Nebraska windfarms in a power supply contract with the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) have filed suit to prevent the utility from backing out of the contract.  The wind farms filed a complaint in federal court in Nebraska on January 30th, alleging that NPPD expressed its intention to terminate a power purchase agreement, and that doing so would be wrongful.  The complaint explains NPPD’s position that the wind farms materially violated the contract by investing in other businesses and operations.  The plaintiffs disagree that there was a breach, but say that even if there was, NPPD cannot terminate the contract because it knew of the transactions.  The plaintiffs also note that NPPD has eminent domain power.  They argue that by terminating the contract, NPPD knows that the wind farms will likely enter default with creditors.  This could allow NPPD to acquire the rights of the wind farms through a foreclosure sale or eminent domain.  To prevent NPPD from terminating the contract, the parties requested, and were granted, a temporary restraining order until March 1st that requires NPPD to honor the contract.  The case is cited as Laredo Ridge Wind, LLC v. Nebraska Pub. Power Dist., No. 8:19-cv-45 (D. Neb.).

Wisconsin Supreme Court asked to decide scope of agency power to regulate agriculture.  A Wisconsin court of appeals has certified two cases to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, asking the court to determine the extent of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s authority to regulate agriculture in order to protect groundwater.  A certification represents a lower court seeking guidance on an issue that the lower court believes it is not in the best position to decide without knowing what the higher court thinks.  These cases are important for Wisconsin because they pertain to a law passed in 2011 that restrained authority of state agencies to act beyond express grants of authority by the state legislature.  Specifically, the cases ask whether the Wisconsin DNR can impose conditions on issuing a permit beyond the conditions stated in a statute.  The affected parties in the cases range from dairy farms to manufacturers and from food processors to municipal water utilities.  Environmental groups hope that state agencies may take a more expansive look at environmental impacts when reviewing permit applications.  The two certification orders are available here and here.

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