May 23, 2014 Weekly Round Up

*This article is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.*

Last week, I spoke to a large group of West Texas ranchers at the 5th Annual NRCS Rancher’s Workshop in Mertzon about key oil and gas and pipeline easement concepts for landowners.  It was a great program and I appreciate Jaime Tankersley inviting me to participate!  Here are some of the ag law stories in the news this week.  Welcome to those of you joining from that presentation.

*  TCEQ Proposal Could Further Limit Water For Rice Farmers.  The TCEQ proposed new recommendations last week that would make it even more difficult for farmers to receive water for their crops.  This, of course, comes on top of the denial of water for the downstream farmers for the third year in a row and discussions about increasing water costs for farmers.  The proposal would require that the LCRA to curb downstream water uses even sooner than the currently do.  The LCRA will conduct an analysis of the proposal over the next several months and provide input.  The TCEQ executive director will then finalize his recommendations, which will then be available for public comment.  [Read article  here.]

* Texas Officials Hold Meeting on Water Dispute with Mexico.  As the battle between Mexico and the United States over a 1944 Treaty regarding waters of the Rio Grande continues, Texas officials recently met to discuss this important issue.   At the meting, TWDB Chairman Charlos Rubenstein and State Representative Eddie Lucio III explained the treaty itself, the differing interpretations by Mexico and the United States, and the economic impacts of Mexico’s refusal to provide water.  [Read article here.]

*  Oil Boom Raises Mineral Rights Concerns.  Across the country, landowners are facing decisions about whether to lease mineral rights to oil and gas companies.  This article discusses some of the issues that arise, particularly outlining the difficulty of determining who owns mineral rights, and rightly advises all landowners to consult an experienced oil and gas attorney before signing an oil and gas lease agreement.  [Read article here.]

* Wal-Mart Settles with Victims of Listeria Outbreak.  Wal-Mart has settled with families of those sickened and killed after a listeria outbreak, linked to a Colorado cantaloupe farm.  Confidential settlements were reached with 23 families, but there are still multiple cases that remain pending.  [Read article here.]

* Battle Between New Mexico and Forest Service Over Water For Cattle Continues.  In New Mexico, a battle is ongoing between local landowners and county officials and the U.S. Forest Service.  The landowners claim that the USFS refuses to open a gate that is blocking their cattle from obtaining water.  The USFS claims that the fences are necessary to protect a long-standing wetland habitat and a potentially endangered species.  Efforts to settle the dispute were unsuccessful last week.  [Read article here.]

* Animal Rights Groups Pay Millions for Frivolous Lawsuit.  Some 14 years after filing suit regarding the welfare of circus elephants, animal welfare groups including the Humane Society of the United States have agreed to pay over $15 million to Feld Entertainment (parent company for Ringling Brothers Circus) after their lawsuit was dismissed as frivilous and charges filed by Feld against the plaintiffs.  Additionally, in 2012, the ASPCA paid over $9 million to Feld.   The trial court initially dismissed the suit in 2001, but then reinstated the claims of plaintiff Tom Rider (a former circus employee) in 2003.  During discovery, it came to light that the animal rights groups paid a former trainer, Tom Rider, nearly $200,000 to bring the suit and resulted in Mr. Rider lying under oath.  In light of this, Feld filed counterclaims against the plaintiffs.   [Read articles here and here.]

Photo via Amy Pierce, Albuquerque, NM

Happy Memorial Day Weekend to all!

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