This week I spoke to a full house at the Swisher County Ag Day in Tulia about Texas Water Law and the major ag law issues to watch in 2015. Thanks to County Extension Agent John Villalba for the invitation and opportunity to speak. To those of you joining the blog from Swisher County, welcome! This is our last weekly round up post of the year! I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season.
* 5th Circuit Refuses to Reconsider Aransas Project v. Shaw. Earlier this week, the 5th Circuit refused to reconsider its decision in Aransas Project v. Shaw, commonly referred to as “the whooping crane case.” The plaintiffs alleged that the TCEQ’s issuance of upstream permits on the Guadalupe River resulted in the deaths of 23 endangered whooping cranes. As you may recall, in June, the 5th Circuit three judge panel reversed a trial court opinion that found the TCEQ was liable for a take under the Endangered Species Act. The plaintiffs then filed a motion for reconsideration en banc, meaning the plaintiffs wanted the entire 5th Circuit to hear the case, rather than just the 3 judge panel. This week, the court rejected this request with 11 judges voting not to hear the case and 4 voting in favor of the request. The 4 judges in favor of the petition issued a dissent, stating that the panel improperly weighed facts in reaching its opinion, which is improper on appellate review. [Read Order and Dissent here.] The plaintiffs have announced that, based upon the dissent, they will file an appeal with the United States Supreme Court. [Read article here.]
* How to include end-of-life discussions into your holiday plans. I realize that most people do not think about Christmas and automatically picture decorated trees, hot chocolate, Rudolph, and end-of-life discussions. It is, however, important to have these discussions with your loved ones to ensure that your wishes are carried out when it comes to your healthcare. The article offers a list of questions to consider and some helpful pointers during the conversation. [Read article here.]
* Should Wind Farms Be Covered by Right to Farm Laws? A bill currently pending in the Michigan state legislature would add wind farms to the definition of farming activities, protected by the state’s Right to Farm law. Under right to farm laws, which exists in all 50 states, an affirmative defense exists to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits and, in some states, may exempt farmers from certain local zoning requirements. Although the bill has yet to go anywhere in the Michigan legislature, it offers insight into an interesting issue that could be raised in many parts of the country that have embraced wind energy, including Texas. [Read article here.]
* North Dakota Potato Farmers Guilty of Crop Insurance Fraud. Brothers Aaron and Derek Johnson, potato farmers in North Dakota, were found guilty of conspiracy, false statements to federal agencies and officials, and insurance fraud by a federal jury last week. The jury found that the brothers intentionally destroyed portions of their potato crops from 2002-2010 in order to obtain improper crop insurance payments and federal disaster relief payments. During this 8 year period, the brothers garnered $2 million in proceeds from crop insurance and federal payments. The brothers will now face sentencing in March. [Read article here.]
* 2014 Year in Review. ‘Tis the season for year in review posts. I will have my own coming up next week, as well as a post discussing what agricultural law issues to keep an eye on in 2015. This week, Agricultural Economic Insights published their agriculture year in review, focusing on a number of interesting issues including farm economics, renewable fuels, weather, grain prices, livestock, ag manufacturers, and federal and state government. [Read article here.] Additionally, Indiana agricultural law attorney, Todd Janzen, published his look back at 2014 this week. Making his list were drones, big data, GMO labeling iniatives, EPA’s proposed “waters of the United States” definition, and the 2014 Farm Bill. [Read article here.] Lastly, Forbes published a really interesting article on the top 10 celebrity estate stories of 2014 and what you can learn. Biggest lessons: have a plan in place, communicate that plan to your loved ones, and update the plan regularly. [Read article here.]