This week I gave two presentations via the internet to folks in San Angelo and in Jefferson County. To those of you new to the blog from these presentations, welcome!
It’s been another busy week in the agricultural law realm.
* Hays County Groundwater Bill on Governor’s Desk. The Texas Legislature passed HB 3405, known as the Hays County Groundwater Bill, sending it on to Governor Abbo[Read article here.] As you likely recall from prior blog posts, Hays County finds itself in the middle of a groundwater battle as a water supply company has secured groundwater rights and plans to drill a well field in the county, from which water will be produced and pumped to the suburbs of Austin. Hays County is not part of a Groundwater Conservation District, which means that there is essentially no oversight of this type of pumping project. HB 3405 expands the jurisdiction of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Groundwater Conservation District to include the area where the proposed well fields will be drilled, thereby allowing the GCD’s rules to apply to the proposed fields. If the GCD’s rules do end up preventing or limiting the right of the supply company to produce groundwater, most agree that litigation will follow. [Read article here.]
* North Carolina Property Protection Act/”Ag Gag” Law Passes Over Governor’s Veto. Despite the fact that North Carolina’s Republican governor vetoed an “ag gag” law passed by the state’s Congress, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle overrode the veto, voting the act into law. [Read article here.] In his veto message [available here] the governor said that while he supported the basic premise of the law–the idea that employees seeking jobs for the purpose of corporate espionage should be prohibited–he felt that the law went too far and could be used to silence legitimate employees with concerns. The bill [read full text here] provides that any person who gained access to nonpublic areas of another’s premises and engages in an act exceeding his or her authority was liable for damages. Acts exceeding authority included (1) an employee entering for a reason other than a bona fide intent of seeking or holding employment and thereafter captures data, records, or documents, records sound, (2) an employee enters for a reason other than a bona fide intent of seeking or holding employment and places unattended surveillance devices or cameras to use against the employer; (3) a person knowingly paces an unattended camera or surveillance device and uses that device to capture images; (4) a person conspiring in organized retail theft; and (5) an act that substantially interferes with the ownership or possession of real property. [Read article here.] The Act will go into effect January 1, 2016 and will apply to all incidents after that date.
* Oklahoma Passes Law Preventing Local Fracking Bans. Following in Texas’ footsteps last month, Oklahoma has passed a law that prohibits local governments from enacting laws preventing fracking in their territory. Governor, Mary Fallin, issued a statement that she believes the state corporation commissioners are in the best position to regulate the oil and gas industry as opposed to a patchwork of local regulations. The bill does allow certain local laws to be passed, including reasonable regulations concerning roads, traffic, noise, odors, fencing, and spacing requirements. [Read article here.]
*Maryland Bans Fracking Through October 2017. Taking the approach opposite to Oklahoma’s, the Maryland legislature passed a bill ensuring that fracking will be prohibited in Maryland through October 2017. During the time when fracking is prohibited, the state is required to draft regulations for when the ban lifts. Although fracking has not been wide-spread in Maryland, it has been in neighboring Pennsylvania. [Read article here.]
* EPA’s Final WOTUS Rule Drawing Criticism. As I mentioned last week, the EPA’s now final rule defining “waters of the United States” for purposes of the Clean Water Act has drawn criticism from many, including most in the agricultural industry. An article by the law firm of Farella Braun & Martel LLP does a good job of laying out the issues causing such concern. [Read article here.]