Happy New Year! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and are ready to tackle 2016.
I kicked off my year speaking to a great group of folks at the Blacklands Income Growth Conference in Waco on Tuesday. I had an absolute blast discussing agricultural law issues and answering great questions from the audience. To those of you joining us from the BIG Conference, welcome!
Here are some of the ag law stories that have been in the news recently.
* Big Bend Pipeline Project Closer To Approval. A FERC decision means that the hotly contested pipeline project through Big Bend is one step closer to fruition. This week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a draft assessment that the portion of the pipeline from the Permian Basin to the US-Mexico Border does not fall under FERC jurisdiction. This means that if the draft stands, while the portion of the pipeline crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico will be federally regulated, the remainder of the pipeline is considered to be intrastate and will, therefore, be governed by the Texas Railroad Commission. The public can comment on the draft assessment until February 3. After that time, FERC will decide whether to approve the draft or make revisions. It is expected that if the draft is approved, a federal lawsuit could be filed against the pipeline project. [Read article here.]
* US Supreme Court Will Hear Clean Water Act Dispute. The United States Supreme Court will hear argument in US Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes. The key issue in this case is whether a property owner may challenge a determination by the EPA and/or Corps of Engineers that his or her property is considered a “water of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. This case raises a very practical issue: What happens if the EPA determines a person’s property is governed by the CWA? Plaintiffs in the care claim that if such a determination is made, a person can either seek a permit under the Act (which can take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars), proceed without a permit and face the potential of extensive fines, or abandon the project they seek to complete. Plaintiffs argue that a landowner facing this type of determination should be entitled to his or her day in court to determine whether their property is, in fact, governed by the Act. The lower court agreed with the Plaintiffs, allowing a suit to be fined. The Obama administration has appealed to the US Supreme Court. Oral argument will occur in the next several months. [Read article here.]
* Congress Repeals COOL Regulation in Face of Retaliation. In the face of retaliatory sanctions by Mexico and Canada, the Country of Origin Labeling regulation has been repealed. The law, which required meat sold in the US to bear a label identifying the country where it was born, raised and slaughtered, was challenged before the World Trade Organization Repeatedly, the WTO found the law to violate WTO rules, and recently approved over $1 billion in retaliatory sanctions against the US if the law remained in effect. Congress included a repeal of the law in the Omnibus Spending Bill, which was signed by the President. [Read article here.]
* Court Approves Settlement of GMO Alfalfa Lawsuit. An Oregon judge has approved a settlement in the case involving GMO alfalfa production, which has been banned in Jackson County. [For more details, read this prior blog post.] As we reported in December, the parties agreed to a settlement. The court has now approved that settlement agreement, which will allow the farmers who filed suit to continue growing their GMO alfalfa for 8 years, but will require harvest before a certain point and providing locations of fields to opposing attorneys. Additionally, other alfalfa farmers in the County will be given a 30-day window to “opt in” and join the settlement agreement to be bound by the terms. [Read article here.]
* South Dakota Dairy Fined for Falsifying Documents in H-2A Visa Program. After falsifying documents in order to hire foreign workers year-round under the federal H-2A Visa program, a South Dakota Dairy, its manager, and its staffing company is barred from further participation in the temporary work visa program for the next 3 years. [Read article here.]