agricultural nutrients

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

The legislative Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) has voted  to send the "watersheds in distress" rule revisions back to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA).   JCARR reviews administrative rules to make sure they follow legal requirements, which we explained in a previous blog post.   The "watersheds in distress" rules seek to address agricultural nutrient impacts on water quality, also explained in an earlier post.  At its meeting yesterday, JCARR members voted 8 to 1 to recommend that ODA revise and refile the rules for consideration at JCARR's next meeting on January 22, 2019. 

The January 22 meeting date efectively removes Governor Kasich's administration from the rules revision.  Kasich issued an executive order last July directing his agencies to prepare the controversial rule package.  But the incoming DeWine Administration will control the fate of the rules since DeWine takes office on January 14, 2019.    JCARR is apparently counting on the new administration to take a different approach on agricultural nutrient pollution reduction. 

"There will be a new administration and we'll have maybe more productive talks," stated JCARR's chair, Sen. Joe Uecker (R-Loveland).  "The DeWine Administration has demonstrated an interest on working with stakeholders on this issue." 

The lack of stakeholder involvement was a common concern voiced by JCARR members, who stated that the rules had been rushed and did not involve all of the interested parties.  Several committee members also suggested that the rules are inconsistent with legislative intent and will have a significant adverse impact on farmers.  The Ohio Soybean Association, Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association, and Ohio Farm Bureau echoed those criticisms to JCARR members while several local residents, local groups and the Ohio Environmental Council testified that the rules would not sufficiently protect water quality.

If ODA fails to refile the rules proposal for the January meeting, JCARR will have 31 days to recomend that the Ohio General Assembly invalidate the rules.  That action would allow each chamber five days to pass a resolution invalidating the rules; if the concurrent resolution does not pass within that time period, the rules would stand.  Alternatively, ODA could remove the proposal from JCARR's agenda and refile revised rules at a later date, a likely course of action for the incoming DeWine administration. 

Read the minutes of the December 10, 2018 JCARR meeting, which will be posted here.  The proposed rules are here and here.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

In an ongoing attempt to carry out Governor Kasich's executive order to establish nutrient management requirements for agricultural nutrients within "watersheds in distress," the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has made a second revision to its proposed rule package.  According to ODA, the proposed watersheds in distress rules "create a uniform, state-wide standard that governs the application of manure and fertilizer on frozen, snow-covered and rain-soaked ground" within areas designated as "watersheds in distress." pursuant to Ohio Admin. Code 1501:15-5-20.  Those proposed standards include the following:

  • Manure and nutrient application restrictions.   Owners, operators and applicators shall not surface apply manure and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) on more than 50 acres of land used for agricultural production on snow covered, frozen and saturated soil or when there's a greater than 50% chance that precipitation would exceed one-half inch in 24 hours, unless the manure or nutrients are  injected, incorporated with 24 hours or applied to a growing crop.
  • Compliance with 590 standards.  Owners, operators and applicators must follow the conservation practices in USDA's “Field Office Technical Guide,” also known as the “590 standards.” 
  • Nutrient management plan (NMP) requirements.  Owners and operators within watersheds in distress must develop and comply with NMPs if applying nutrients on more than 50 acres or producing, applying, or received more than 350 tons or 100,000 gallons of manure annually by deadlines established by ODA, must submit an attestation of NMP completion to ODA, and must produce a copy of the plan within five days of a demand by ODA.  The rule outlines the requirements and standards for NMPs.
  • Ongoing compliance.  Owners and operators must update NMPs and attestations once every three years or when conditions change.
  • Enforcement.  The rule includes penalities for failure to comply with rule provisions.

ODA proposed the first rule package in July, accepted public comments on the rule, and published a revised rule package for public comments.   In response to the second round of comments, ODA has made another revision to the rule.  The agency states that it is now amending the rule "to require the Department to conduct an audit of at least 5% of the attestations submitted to determine compliance regarding completion of nutrient management plans."  Explaining the purpose of the revision, ODA states that "support was voiced from certain stakeholders regarding the flexibility of farmers to apply manure and nutrients during the winter months when conditions were favorable and safe to apply. In contrast, other stakeholders raised concerns that agricultural operations would no longer have any restrictions on the application of manure and nutrients. Stakeholders also raised concerns regarding the Department’s ability to enforce the new proposals." 

The proposed watersheds in distress rule package is here and the business impact analysis for the rules is here.   The public may submit comments on the proposal to ODA at AGReComments@agri.ohio.gov until October 5, 2018. 

 

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, September 14th, 2018

It's Farm Science Review week!  Be sure to visit us in the Firebaugh Building to get your questions answered and pick up copies of our Law Bulletins and a helping of candy corn.  We'll be speaking on "Pond Liability" at the Gwynne Conservation Area on Wednesday and on "Estate Planning:  Mistakes to Avoid" in the Ask the Experts session everyday.

Here's our gathering of ag law news you may want to know:

Movement on Ohio “Watersheds in Distress” rules.  As we have reported on several times this summer, Governor John Kasich signed an executive order on July 11, 2018 directing ODA to “consider whether it is appropriate to seek the consent of the Ohio Soil and Water Commission (OSWC) to designate” certain watersheds “as watersheds in distress due to increased nutrient levels resulting from phosphorous attached to soil sediment.”  Since that time, ODA has submitted a proposed rule dealing with Watersheds in Distress.  Amendments were made to the proposed rule after evaluating the first set of public comments, and ODA is now resubmitting the rules package.  ODA reopened the proposed rule for public comments, but it closed the comment period on September 7, 2018.  Information about the proposed rules, as well as how and where to comment, can be found here (click on the “Stakeholder Review” tab and then the “Soil and Water Conservation – Watersheds in Distress OAC 901:13-1” drop down option).  A draft of the newly amended proposed rules is available here

WOTUS woes continue.  The Obama administration’s hotly contested “Waters of the United States” Rule is back in the news, and this time, where it applies is dependent on where you live.  A background on the rule can be found in our previous blog post.  The rule basically expanded which bodies of water qualify as “waters of the United States,” which in turn protected more waters under the Clean Water Act.  The rule became effective in 2015.  Since that time, U.S. District Courts in North Dakota and Georgia have issued preliminary injunctions against Obama’s WOTUS Rule, which means it cannot be carried out in twenty-four states.  Additionally,  last summer, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, under the direction of President Trump, announced their plan to repeal Obama’s WOTUS Rule and replace it with the definition of WOTUS “that existed prior to 2015” until a new definition could be developed. Trump’s  rule was published on February 6, 2018, giving the administration until 2020 to come up with a new definition.   However, in a ruling on August 16, 2018, in a U.S. District Court in South Carolina, Judge David Norton determined that the Trump administration “failed to comply with” requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act when it enacted its rule.  This means that the Trump rule repealing and replacing the definition of WOTUS is invalidated.  As a result of Judge Norton’s decision, in the remaining twenty-six states without an injunction, the Obama administration’s version of the rule has been reinstated.  Ohio is one of the twenty-six states where the Obama rule currently applies.  Will the Trump administration and the EPA respond to Norton’s decision by announcing yet another new WOTUS rule?  Follow the Ag Law Blog for any updates.  In the meantime, the country remains nearly split in half by which version of the WOTUS rule is carried out. 

Regulators, meet “meat.”  Under a new Missouri law, it is a criminal offense to misrepresent a product as “meat” if there is, in fact, no meat.  Missouri’s revision of its meat advertising laws took effect on August 28th, and has been dubbed by many as the first attempt by a state to regulate what qualifies as meat.  Defining meat as “any edible portion of livestock, poultry, or captive cervid carcass,” the law prohibits “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.”  Violations are treated as a misdemeanor, with a fine up to $1,000 and possible jail time.  The Missouri Department of Agriculture has said that it intends to enforce the law, but that it plans to give affected companies until the start of next year to bring their labels into compliance.  Supporters of the law, like the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, argue that it will provide consumers with accurate information about their food, and also protect meat producers from unfair labeling of plant-based or lab-grown meat alternatives.  Opponents have already filed a lawsuit to prevent enforcement, arguing that the law restricts free speech and improperly discriminates against out-of-state producers of meat alternatives.  The named plaintiff on the lawsuit is Turtle Island Foods, an Oregon company that does business under the names Tofurky and The Good Foods Institute.  The company makes plant-based food products, and is joined in its opposition by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.  Beyond Missouri, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has listed the issue as a top policy priority for this year, and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has petitioned the USDA to adopt stricter labeling requirements.  As this issue develops, the Ag Law Blog will keep you updated.

USDA taps Commodity Credit Corporation to aid farmers.  Readers are no doubt aware of global trade disputes in which other countries have increased tariffs on American agricultural exports.  Given the extensive news coverage, the Harvest will not attempt to cover the dispute in depth; however, one point that has been less covered is the tool that the USDA has selected to provide relief to impacted farmers: the Commodity Credit Corporation.  What is it?  The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) is a federal government entity created during the Great Depression in 1933 to “stabilize, support, and protect farm income and prices.”  Since 1939, it has been under the control of the Secretary of Agriculture, although it is managed by a seven member Board of Directors.  CCC is technically authorized to borrow up to $30 billion from the U.S. Treasury at any one time, but due to trade agreements, that number is, in reality, much smaller.  This gives USDA access to billions of dollars in funding without having to go to Congress first.  The money can be used to provide loans or payments to agricultural producers, purchase agricultural products to sell or donate, develop domestic and foreign markets, promote conservation, and more.  CCC has no staff, but is instead administered through other USDA agencies, largely the Farm Service Agency and Agricultural Marketing Service.  On August 27th, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that USDA plans to tap the Commodity Credit Corporation for up to $12 billion worth of aid to farmers affected by recent tariffs.  The Market Facilitation Program will provide direct payments to eligible corn, cotton, dairy, hog, sorghum, soybean, and wheat producers, and the Food Purchase and Distribution Program will purchase up to $1.2 billion in select commodities.  For more about the Commodity Credit Corporation, check out its website.

Bayer reports increasing number of lawsuits against newly acquired Monsanto.  Bayer, the German pharmaceutical and life sciences company that acquired Monsanto early this summer, has indicated that there are an increasing number of lawsuits in the United States alleging that its weed killers cause cancer.  According to the Wall Street Journal, there were roughly 8,700 plaintiffs seeking monetary damages from Bayer as of late August, a sharp increase from the 5,200 plaintiffs just months earlier.  Many of these lawsuits involve cancer patients who claim that Monsanto’s glyphosate-containing herbicides like Roundup caused their cancer.  As we reported in a previous edition of the Harvest, one person’s successful lawsuit against Monsanto resulted in a San Francisco jury award of $289.2 million for failing to warn consumers of the risks posed by its weed killers.  Monsanto is expected to file motions for a new trial and for the judge to set aside the verdict, and may ultimately appeal the decision.  These cancer-related claims come at a time when another Monsanto product, Dicamba, is causing great controversy.  Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog as these lawsuits continue to develop.

Written by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate

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

Kasich’s Executive Order delayed.  As we previously wrote about, Governor John Kasich signed an executive order earlier this month which directed ODA to “consider whether it is appropriate to seek the consent of the Ohio Soil and Water Commission (OSWC) to designate” certain watersheds “as watersheds in distress due to increased nutrient levels resulting from phosphorous attached to soil sediment.”  The OSWC voted on July 19 to delay Kasich’s executive order, which means that the eight watersheds will not be labeled “watersheds in distress” at this time.  Instead, a subcommittee of the OSWC is tasked with researching and determining if each of the watersheds should be listed as “watersheds in distress.”  More information on this delay is available in Ohio’s Country Journal

ODA to submit “Watersheds in Distress” rule package.  In more news regarding “watersheds in distress,” ODA is expected to propose a new rule package.  While rules concerning watersheds in distress already limit the land application of manure on farms, the new rules would also limit the application of “nutrients,” which are defined as “nitrogen, phosphorus, or a combination of both.”  Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for any updates on this rule package!

ODA upgrades website.  The Ohio Department of Agriculture updated its website last month.  The update includes a section with frequently asked questions and answers for each of the separate Divisions. For example, the questions frequently asked about food safety, making and selling food are available here.  Head to www.agri.ohio.gov to check it out the new ODA website.  

Additional comments sought on WOTUS.  On July 12, 2018, the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA published a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register.  The supplemental notice is meant to “clarify, supplement and seek additional comment on” last summer’s proposal to repeal the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule.  As a reminder, the 2015 WOTUS rule expanded the meaning of “waters of the United States,” or those waters protected under the Clean Water Act, to include “tributaries to interstate waters, waters adjacent to interstate waters, waters adjacent to tributaries of interstate waters and other waters that have a significant nexus to interstate waters.” If the 2015 WOTUS rule is repealed, then the pre-2015 regulations defining WOTUS will be recodified.  The agencies are seeking additional comments on the proposed rulemaking through this supplemental notice.  The comment period is open through August 13, 2018.  Comments can be left here

Ohio legislation on the move

  • Dogs on patios.  H.B. 263, which we have been following, was sent to the Governor on 7/24/2018.  Kasich’s signature would mean that food establishments and food service operations could permit customers to bring a dog into an outdoor dining area if the dog is vaccinated.  Each establishment must adopt a policy requiring customers to control their dogs and to keep their dogs out of indoor areas.  See our previous coverage of this legislation here and here
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, July 12th, 2018

Recent actions by the Ohio legislature and Governor Kasich will affect the management of agricultural nutrients in Ohio.   The Ohio General Assembly has passed “Clean Lake 2020” legislation that will provide funding for reducing phosphorous in Lake Erie.  Governor Kasich signed the Clean Lake 2020 bill on July 10, in tandem with issuing Executive Order 2018—09K, “Taking Steps to Protect Lake Erie.”  The two actions aim to address the impact of agricultural nutrients on water quality in Lake Erie.

The Clean Lake 2020 legislation provides funding for the following:

  • $20 million in FY 2019 for a Soil and Water Phosphorus Program in the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA).  In utilizing the funds, ODA must:
    • Consult with the Lake Erie Commission and the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission to establish programs that help reduce total phosphorus and dissolved reactive phosphorus in the Western Lake Erie Basin and must give priority to sub-watersheds that are highest in total phosphorus and dissolved reactive phosphorus nutrient loading.   
    • Create specific programs that include the purchase of equipment for (1) subsurface placement of nutrients into soil; (2) nutrient placement based on geographic information system data; and (3) manure transformation and manure conversion technologies; soil testing; tributary monitoring;  water management and edge-of-field drainage management; and an agricultural phosphorus reduction revolving loan program. 
    • Not use more than 40% of the funds on a single program or activity.
  • $3.5 million for county soil and water conservation districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin for staffing costs and for soil testing and nutrient management plan assistance to farmers, including manure transformation and manure conversion technologies, enhanced filter strips, water management, and other conservation support.
  • $2.65 million for OSU’s Sea Grant—Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie to construct new research lab space and purchase in-lake monitoring equipment including real-time buoys and water treatment plant monitoring sondes.
  • A $2 million obligation increase for the Ohio Public Facilities Commission allocated to the costs of capital facilities for state-supported and state-assisted institutions of higher education.

Governor Kasich’s Executive Order contains two parts:

  • Directs the ODA to “consider whether it is appropriate to seek the consent of the Ohio Soil and Water Commission to designate the following Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) watersheds or portions of watersheds in the Maumee River Basin as watersheds in distress due to increased nutrient levels resulting from phosphorous attached to soil sediment:  Platter Creek Watershed, Little Flat Rock Creek Watershed, Little Auglaize River Watershed, Eagle Creek Watershed, Auglaize River, Blanchard River, St. Mary’s, Ottawa River.” 
  • If the Soil and Water Commission consents to a designation of a watershed in distress, ODA, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio EPA “should recommend a rule package that establishes the following . . . nutrient management requirements for all nutrient sources; development of associated management plans for agricultural land and operations within the designated watershed boundaries; requirements for the storage, handling, land application, and control of residual farm products, manure, and erosion of sediment and substances attached thereto within the designated watershed boundaries.”

The legislation containing Clean Lake 2020 provisions, S.B. 299, is available here.  Governor Kasich’s Executive Order is here, and a fact sheet issued with the Executive Order is here.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

A pair of companion bi-partisan bills just introduced in the Ohio Senate and Ohio House of Representatives would provide significant funding to help meet Ohio’s goal of reducing phosphorus loading by 20% in Lake Erie by 2020.  The sponsors of S.B. 299 are Senators Gardner (R-Bowling Green) and O’Brien (D-Bazetta) and Representatives Arndt (R-Port Clinton) and Patterson (D-Jefferson) are the sponsors of H.B. 643.  The legislation is a “targeted funding solution bill,” according to Rep. Arndt, “providing both [general revenue funds] and capital funding for a variety of strategies that scientists, Lake Erie advocates, agriculture leaders, and others believe can help achieve our phosphorus reduction goals.” 

The legislation includes the following:

  • A “Soil and Water Conservation Support Fund” of up to $3.5 million to support county soil and water conservation districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin for staffing and to assist in soil testing, nutrient management plan development that would also include manure transformation and manure conversion technologies, enhanced filter strips and water management.
  • A “Soil and Water Phosphorus Program” of up to $20 million, to be established by the Ohio Department of Agriculture to reduce phosphorus in sub-watersheds of the Western Lake Erie Basin.  The bill requires that the programs be supported with the purchase of equipment for subsurface placement of nutrients into the soil; nutrient placement based on geographic information system data; soil testing; variable rate technology; manure transformation and manure conversion technologies; tributary monitoring and water management and edge-of-field drainage management.
  • $3.5 million for Ohio State’s Sea Grant—Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie to construct new research lab space and purchase in-lake monitoring equipment.
  • Up to $10 million for the Healthy Lake Erie Initiative to reduce open lake disposal of dredged materials into Lake Erie.

Both bills were immediately referred to committee, with proponent testimony heard before the Senate Finance Committee on May 15 and the House Finance Committee on May 16.  The Lake Erie Foundation, Nature Conservancy, Ohio Environmental Council, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Ohio Farm Bureau testified in support of the legislation. 

The legislators also introduced Senate Joint Resolution 6 and House Joint Resolution 16 on May 9 that propose to submit a constitutional amendment authorizing the issuance of up to $1 billion in general obligation bonds to pay for the Lake Erie clean water improvements for voter approval at the November 6, 2018 general election.  The resolutions were also referred to the respective finance committees but were not on the committees’ recent agendas.

Read S.B. 299 here or H.B. 643 here.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, October 06th, 2017

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

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill sponsored by Ohio senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman that intends to improve the federal response to water pollution by amending the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998.  Senate Bill 1057 will now move on to the House of Representatives for debate.

What are harmful algal blooms and hypoxia?

The EPA defines harmful algal blooms as “overgrowths of algae in water,” some of which “produce dangerous toxins in fresh or marine water.” The toxins can be dangerous for humans and animals. One major contributor to algal blooms is an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water.  Hypoxiacan also be caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. The EPA defines hypoxia as “low oxygen” in water. Hypoxia sometimes goes hand-in-hand with algal blooms, because as algae dies, it uses oxygen, which in turn removes oxygen from the water. Algal blooms and hypoxia have been a problem in Lake Erie and other parts of the country.

Background of the law

The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act was passed in 1998 in response to harmful algal blooms and hypoxia along the coast of the United States. When passing the law, Congress cited scientists who said both problems were caused by “excessive nutrients.” Furthermore, Congress found that harmful algal blooms had caused animal deaths, health and safety threats, and “an estimated $1,000,000,000 in economic losses” in the previous decade.

The law established an interagency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia (Task Force), which was charged with submitting an assessment to Congress on the “ecological and economic consequences” of both harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. The assessments were to include “alternatives for reducing, mitigating, and controlling” harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. A number of other reports and assessments were also required, which were to all culminate in a plan to combat and reduce the impacts of harmful algal blooms. Additionally, the Act singled out the areas of the Northern Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. For these two areas, the Act required additional progress reports and mitigation plans.

The Act has undergone a few amendments throughout the years. The amendments have expanded and/or renewed the duties of the Task Force and other state and federal actors. Most notably, amendments in 2014 created the national harmful algal bloom and hypoxia program (Program) and a comprehensive research plan and action strategy. Under the Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was charged with administering funding to programs combatting algal blooms and hypoxia, working with state, local, tribal, and international governments to research and address algal blooms and hypoxia, and supervising the creation and review of the action strategy, among other duties. The action strategy identified the “specific activities” that the Program should carry out, which activities each agency in the Task Force would be responsible for, and the parts of the country where even more specific research and activities addressing algal blooms and hypoxia would be necessary.

What changes are proposed?

SB 1057 would make a number of changes and additions to the current law. Overall, the goal of the bill seems to be to strengthen the federal government’s ability to research and respond to water pollution in the form of algal blooms and hypoxia. The most important amendments in the bill would:

  • Add the Army Corps of Engineers to the list of agencies on the Task Force.
  • Combine the sections on freshwater and coastal algal blooms, and require that scientific assessments be submitted to Congress every five years for both types of water.
  • Establish a website that would provide information about the harmful algal bloom and hypoxia program (Program) activities to “local and regional stakeholders.”
  • Require the Task Force to work with extension programs to promote the Program and “improve public understanding” about harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.
  • Require the use of “cost effective methods” when carrying out the law.
  • Require the development of “contingency plans for the long-term monitoring of hypoxia.”
  • Fund the Program and the comprehensive research plan and action strategy from 2019 through 2023.

Most importantly, SB 1057 would add a completely new section to the law that would allow federal officials to “determine whether a hypoxia or harmful algal bloom event is an event of national significance.” Under the new language, the federal official can independently determine that such an event is occurring, or the Governor of an affected state can request that a determination to be made.

When making the determination, the federal official would have to take a number of factors into consideration including:

  • Toxicity of the harmful algal bloom;
  • Severity of the hypoxia;
  • Potential to spread;
  • Economic impact;
  • Relative size in relation to the past five occurrences of harmful algal blooms or hypoxia events that occur on a recurrent or annual basis; and
  • Geographic scope, including the potential to affect several municipalities, to affect more than one State, or to cross an international boundary.

Finally, in the case an event of national significance is found, the the federal official would have the power to give money to the affected state or locality to mitigate the damages. However, SB 1057 states that the federal share of money awarded cannot be more than 50% of the cost of any activity. The federal official would have the power to accept donations of “funds, services, facilities, materials, or equipment” to supplement the federal money.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. Text and information on SB 1057 is available here. To read the current law, click here. For further information on water pollution, check out the EPA’s pages on harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

We're happy to return to our blog after a short summer recess, but are sad to have lost fellow blogger and Law Fellow Chris Hogan, who has moved to California.  Chris is now in private practice with agricultural attorney Tim Kelleher.  We are confident that California agriculture is in good hands!    

Our first blog post concerns updates to Ohio’s Agricultural Fertilizer Applicator Certification Program.   The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) recently revised the rules in order to fine-tune the program established in 2014 by Ohio’s legislature. ODA made several changes to the certification, education, and recordkeeping requirements for those who apply agricultural fertilizers to more than 50 acres of land in agricultural production.  The changes go into effect on October 1, 2017.

Updates to the Certification Requirements

Three modifications to the certification requirements will: 1) provide additional clarity about how the certifications apply to employees, 2) adjust the cycle for when the certifications begin and expire, and 3) establish a grace period to obtain a renewal certification after a prior certification has expired.

  1. The new rule clarifies how the requirements apply to employees of businesses and farms, a provision that was unclear under the old rule. The certification rule requires all persons who apply fertilizer for the purpose of agricultural production on more than 50 acres of land to either personally have a certificate issued by the ODA Director, or to act under the instruction and control of a certificate holder. The person acting under the certificate holder must be either a family member of the certificate holder, or “employed by the same business or farm as the certificate holder.”
  2. Instead of starting on June 1 of year one and ending on May 31 of the third year, the certification period for an applicator will run from April 1 of year one until March 31of the third year. The new cycle will avoid mid-season headaches by ensuring that certifications will generally be in place prior to planting season.
  3. The new rule provides a grace period to certificate holders who do not renew their certificates prior to the expiration of their old certificates. If a certificate holder’s certificate expires before they complete a renewal application, the new rule gives the expired certificate holder 180 days after the date of expiration to complete the renewal process. The primary benefit of this grace period is that within the 180 day period, the application will be treated as a renewal application rather than a new application, which requires fewer training hours.

Updates to the Education Requirements

ODA has modified the education requirements in two important ways:

  1. The rule provides an examination option as opposed to requiring all applicants to attend a certain number of hours of agricultural nutrient training. This allows individuals who know what ODA wants them to know about the topic to bypass the hours of training requirement.
  2. The new rule differentiates education requirements for new certification applications and renewal applications. Fewer training hours will be required for renewal applications than new applications.
    • New applicants have the option of either attending at least three hours of agricultural nutrient training or passing an ODA-approved fertilizer examination that demonstrates an “adequate knowledge of the fertilizer training requirements.” New applicants must successfully complete one of these options within the twelve months prior to applying for certification.
    • Those wishing to renew their certifications have the option of either attending one hour of agricultural nutrient training or passing an ODA-approved fertilizer examination. Those who obtain their fertilizer certificate within twelve months of applying for a renewal certificate do not have to complete the renewal education requirements.

Additional Recordkeeping Requirements

The final change to the program rules adds two new recordkeeping requirements. For each application of fertilizer, the fertilizer certificate holder must record:

  • The number of acres on which fertilizer is applied, and
  • The total amount of fertilizer applied, by either weight or volume.

These are in addition to the current requirements, which include maintaining records of:

  • The date, place, and rate of the application of fertilizer,
  • An analysis of the fertilizer applied,
  • The name of the individual who applied the fertilizer,
  • The name of the certificate holder,
  • The type of application method used,
  • The soil and weather conditions at the time of application,
  • The weather forecast for the day following the fertilizer application, and
  • For surface applications, whether the land was frozen and/or snow covered during the fertilizer application.

Each of these must be documented within 24 hours of the application. The existing timing requirements, such as how long the applicator has to submit the information to the certificate holder, have not changed.

For more information, visit ODA’s Agricultural Fertilizer Applicator Certification web page and OSU’s Nutrient Education and Management website. The program rules in Chapter 901:5-4 of the Ohio Administrative Code are here.  

By Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program 

The Ohio legislature recently enacted a bill expected to enhance Ohio’s efforts to address water quality in Lake Erie. Senate Bill 2, a far reaching environmental bill, contains several revisions to the Ohio Lake Erie Commission (OLEC) and Ohio’s Lake Erie Protection and Restoration Strategy.

The purpose of OLEC is to advise on the development, implementation, and coordination of Lake Erie programs and policies and to oversee the management of the Lake Erie Protection Fund. For Ohio agriculture, the most important of S.B. 2’s revisions to OLEC is the expansion of OLEC’s purpose to include “issues related to nutrient-related water quality.” This change reveals a new focus on nutrient impacts on Lake Erie’s water quality and a resulting charge for OLEC to implement the Ohio EPA’s current plan for reducing phosphorous levels in the Lake by 40% by 2025.

Furthermore, S.B. 2 broadens and strengthens OLEC’s role in coordinating and funding policies, programs and priorities related to Lake Erie. Coordination with the federal government is encouraged, as is consideration of the efforts of Ohio and other Great Lakes states and countries, as well as any agreements between those states and countries and Ohio. OLEC must also publish a Lake Erie Protection and Restoration Strategy that describes the commission’s goals and its planned uses for the Lake Erie Protection Fund. Demonstration projects and cooperative research are now acceptable uses of the fund, in addition to the previously established use of data gathering.

S.B. 2 enhances coordination between OLEC and the Great Lakes Protection Fund (GLPF) board by bringing two members of the GLPF’s board onto OLEC’s board, which currently consists of the directors of Ohio’s EPA, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation and Department of Development, along with five additional members appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. S.B. 2 requires the Governor to select the two GLPF board members who will serve on the OLEC board.

Changes in S.B. 2 also call for OLEC to develop public education and outreach programs about their work and issues facing Lake Erie and to expand fundraising efforts to support their programs—namely through the promotion of the sale of Lake Erie license plates. A number of provisions regard the disposal of construction and demolition debris and dredging in Lake Erie.

The revisions in S.B. 2 are likely to better equip OLEC to carry out strategies for improving Lake Erie’s water quality. Most notably, the new law will shift some of OLEC’s focus to combating water quality problems associated with nutrient pollution, a change that will surely affect Ohio agriculture.

S.B. 2 is available here in its entirety. Refer to the first four pages of the bill for the revisions to OLEC.  More information about OLEC is here.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, March 20th, 2017

Federal court dismisses Clean Water Act lawsuit against Iowa drainage districts

A federal district court has dismissed the controversial Des Moines Water Works lawsuit that put the agricultural community on edge for the past two years.  While the decision is favorable for agriculture, it doesn’t resolve the question of whether the water utility could prove that nitrates draining from farm fields are harming the utility’s water sources.  The court’s dismissal prevents Des Moines Water Works from further asserting such claims.

The lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) utility sued irrigation districts in three Iowa counties for allowing discharges of nitrates through drainage infrastructure and into the waterways from which the utility drew its water.  In addition to claiming that the discharges violate the federal Clean Water Act’s permitting requirements, DMWW also asserted nuisance, trespassing, negligence, takings without compensation, and due process and equal protection claims under Iowa law.   The utility sought monetary damages for the cost of removing nitrates from its water as well as an injunction ordering the drainage districts to stop the discharges with proper permits.

The federal district court first certified several questions of state law to the Iowa Supreme Court to clarify whether Iowa law provided immunity to the drainage districts for DMWW’s claims.   On January 27, 2017, the Iowa Supreme Court responded in the positive, explaining that Iowa drainage districts had been immune from damages and injunctive relief claims for over a century because drainage districts “have a limited, targeted role—to facilitate the drainage of farmland in order to make it more productive.”  The Iowa court also clarified that Iowa’s Constitution did not provide a basis for DMWW’s constitutional arguments.  

Turning to the party’s claims in light of the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling, the federal district court focused on the drainage district’s motion to dismiss DMWW’s claims based on the doctrine of redressability, which requires a showing that the alleged injury is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision.  The doctrine of redressability concludes that a plaintiff cannot have standing to sue and therefore cannot proceed in a case if the defendant doesn’t have the power to redress or remedy the injury even if the court granted the requested relief.  

The drainage districts argued that they could not redress DMWW’s Clean Water Act claims because the districts had no power to regulate the nitrates flowing through the drainage systems.  The court agreed, stating that “DMWW seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties against the drainage districts arising from alleged duties and powers that the districts simply do not possess under Iowa law.  DMWW may well have suffered an injury, but the drainage districts lack the ability to redress that injury.” 

The federal district court also dismissed DMWW’s remaining claims against the drainage districts.  DMWW argued that the immunity given the drainage districts as described by the Iowa Supreme Court prevented DMWW’s remaining claims and thus violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection, Due Process, and Takings Clauses.  The federal district court found these contentions to be “entirely devoid of merit” and dismissed the state law claims of nuisance, trespassing, negligence, takings, due process and equal protection.  Because none of the counts against the drainage districts survived the court’s scrutiny, the court dismissed and closed the case.  

What does the decision mean for agriculture?

The DMWW case was a futile but somewhat inventive attempt to allocate liability for nitrate pollution to the agricultural community.  “Unregulated agricultural discharges into Iowa's rivers, lakes and streams continue to increase costs to our customers and damage Iowa's water quality and environment,” said DMWW’s CEO Bill Stowe upon filing the lawsuit.  A public poll by the Des Moines Register soon after Stowe brought the DMWW lawsuit showed that 42% of the respondents agreed with him in believing that farmers should pay for nitrate removal from DMWW’s waters, while 32% thought those who lived in Des Moines should pay to remove the nitrates. 

If the goal is to force agriculture to reduce nutrient run off or pay for the cost of removing nutrients from waterways, the DMWW case tells us that suing those who oversee agricultural drainage infrastructure projects is not the proper mechanism for accomplishing that goal.  So will the next strategy be to sue the farmers who use the nutrients and the drainage infrastructure? 

One challenge in suing farmers for nutrient runoff, and the issue that was not addressed in DMWW, is whether nutrient runoff from farm fields carried through drainage systems constitutes a “point source” that requires regulation under the Clean Water Act, or whether nutrient runoff fits within the agricultural exemption under the Clean Water Act.  That law defines a “point source” as “any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or other floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged,” but states that point sources do not include “agricultural storm water discharges and return flows from irrigated agriculture.”  What we still don’t know after two years of DMWW litigation is whether a court would put the transport of agricultural nutrients through drainage systems in the point source definition or would consider it an agricultural exemption from the point source definition.

A second challenge in an attempt to bring agricultural nutrients under the Clean Water Act is the burden of proof upon the plaintiff to prove the actual origin of a downstream nutrient—who applied the nutrient that ended up downstream?  DMWW sought to minimize this challenge by suing the drainage districts that oversee the entire region.   But had the case proceeded, DMWW still would have had to trace the nutrients to the region, a difficult task.

The agricultural community expects that its voluntary efforts to reduce nitrate and phosphorus runoff from farm fields will positively impact water quality and stem the possibility of more litigation like the DMWW case.   A multitude of voluntary efforts are underway, such as Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the flourish of cover crops in the Western Lake Erie Basin.  Ohio has also added a regulatory approach that requires farmers to engage in fertilizer application training.   Let’s hope these initiatives will reduce nutrient impacts before another party is willing to point its finger at agriculture and pursue a lawsuit like DMWW.

Read the federal court's decision in DMWW here.  A previous post on DMWW is available here.

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