Legislators propose “Clean Lake 2020 Plan” funding to reduce Lake Erie phosphorus

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 proposed 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.

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The Ag Law Harvest

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

Ohio court upholds conservation easement restriction.  In a battle over the future of a property subject to a conservation easement, the Twelfth District Court of Appeals has determined that   the easement’s restriction on subdivision of the 76-acre property is valid.  The easement requires that the property be retained forever in its natural and agricultural state and prohibits any subdivision of the property.   The lower court determined that the subdivision is an invalid and unreasonable restraint on alienation because it does not contain a reasonable temporal limitation, but the Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that the property could still be sold and that the prohibition on subdividing the property was consistent with the purpose of the conservation easement.  See Taylor v. Taylor here.

First decision out in North Carolina nuisance lawsuits.  On April 26, 2018, a federal jury found that Murphy-Brown LLC created a nuisance for neighbors living near Kinlaw Farms in North Carolina, where Murphy-Brown raises up 14,688 hogs.   A subsidiary of Smithfield, the largest producer of pork in the world, owns Murphy-Brown LLC.   Neighbors of Kinley Farms brought the lawsuit in 2014, asserting that the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), with its open air lagoon, spraying of manure on nearby fields, and truck traffic, created “odor, annoyance, dust, noise and loss of use and enjoyment” of their properties.  The neighbors also claimed that boxes of deceased hogs and hog waste on the farm attracted buzzards, insects and vermin.  The jury found that Murphy-Brown substantially and unreasonably interfered with each of the ten plaintiffs’ use and enjoyment of their property and as a result, awarded each plaintiff $75,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.  Since the initial jury decision, the amount of punitive damages awarded to each plaintiff has been diminished to $250,000 due to a state law limiting such awards in North Carolina.  Smithfield/Murphy-Brown LLC plans to appeal the decision.  Similar lawsuits brought by neighbors against hog operations in eastern North Carolina will be heard in the near future.  Several questions remain to be answered; one is whether Smithfield will be successful in their appeal.  Another question is whether this case and the other lawsuits will inspire similar lawsuits against large livestock operations in other states.

Monsanto loses challenge of California glyphosate listing.  A California Court of Appeals has held that the state may list glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup product, as a probable carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65, which requires the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to list all chemical agents with a known association to cancer.  OEHHA based its listing on a 2015 report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which stated that glyphosate was a “probable” human carcinogen.   Proposition 65 allows OEHHA to rely upon an IARC finding, but Monsanto argued that represented an unconstitutional delegation of authority to a foreign agency.  The court disagreed, ruling that OEHHA acted appropriately by relying on the IARC conclusion that glyphosate is a possible carcinogen.

National GMO Standard proposed.  On May 4, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) released the administrative rule it proposes to meet the 2016 Congressional mandate to develop a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.  The rule would require that genetically modified or “bioengineered” food be labeled as such.  According to the AMS, “[t]he proposed rule is intended to provide a mandatory uniform national standard for disclosure of information to consumers about the [bioengineered] status of foods.”  The AMS is asking for interested parties to submit their comments about the proposed rule by July 3, 2018.

Industrial hemp bill on the move.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s federal legislation to allow states to regulate industrial hemp is gaining traction.  The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture is supporting the bill and encouraging Congress to “provide an opportunity toward full commercialization of this new crop opportunity for farmers.”

More on Arkansas dicamba ban.  In Arkansas, where the fight over the use of dicamba has raged for the past few years, the state Supreme Court has overruled several lower court judges’ rulings that certain farmers be exempted from the statewide ban on applying the volatile herbicide.  The Arkansas State Plant Board has banned the use of dicamba in the state from April 16 through October 31 of this year.

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ODA proposes changes to Ohio’s noxious weeds list

Wild carrot, Oxeye daisy, and wild mustard will no longer be prohibited noxious weeds in Ohio if the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) revisions to the noxious weeds list become effective. ODA is proposing to remove the three plants after its five year review of plant species considered “noxious” for purposes of Ohio law. The agency is also proposing adding these 12 species to the noxious weeds list:

  • Yellow Groove Bamboo (Phyllostachys aureasculata), when the plant has spread from its original premise of planting and is not being maintained.
  • Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis)
  • Heart-podded hoary cress (Lepidium draba sub. draba). Hairy whitetop or ballcress (Lepidium appelianum)
  • Perennial sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis)
  • Russian knapweed (Acroptilon repens)
  • Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula)
  • Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium)
  • Serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma)
  • Columbus grass (Sorghum x almum)
  • Musk thistle (Carduus nutans)
  • Forage Kochia (Bassia prostrata)
  • Water Hemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus)

The director of ODA has the legal authority to designate noxious weeds. Several Ohio laws provide for control and removal of designated noxious weeds along public highways, toll roads, and railroads, and on private property.  The current noxious weeds list also contains the following plants, which will remain on the list:

  • Grapevines: (Vitis spp.), when growing in groups of one hundred or more and not pruned, sprayed, cultivated, or otherwise maintained for two consecutive years.
  • Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense L. (Scop.))
  • Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)
  • Cressleaf groundsel (Senecio glabellus)
  • Musk thistle (Carduus nutans)
  • Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
  • Mile-A-Minute Weed (Polygonum perfoliatum)
  • Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum).
  • Apple of Peru (Nicandra physalodes)
  • Marestail (Conyza canadensis)
  • Kochia (Bassia scoparia)
  • Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri)
  • Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata)
  • Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum)

ODA is requesting public comments on the revised list of noxious weeds through April 27, 2018.  E-mail comments to ecomments@agri.ohio.gov or mail them to Legal Section, Ohio Department of Agriculture, 8995 E. Main St., Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068.  Learn more about noxious weed laws in our bulletin, here.

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The Ag Law Harvest

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

  • The Ohio Department of Agriculture will hold a hearing on April 5, 2018 at 9 a.m. to receive testimony on proposed amendments to the Agricultural Pollution Abatement Program rules. The amendments are largely alterations of the format and structure of the rule to allow for easier reading, and do not impact the substance of the rule in many situations.  Two changes to the substance of the rules is the addition of a duty to prevent pollution from “residual farm products,” which means bedding, wash waters, waste feed, silage drainage and some mortality composting, and clarification of the investigation and enforcement process.  Read the ODA’s summary of the changes here.  Hearing information is here.
  • Considering solar leasing on your farm? If so, sit in on the Solar Leasing for Agricultural Landowners webinar on April 4 at Noon. The free webinar features our colleague Prof. Shannon Ferrell of Oklahoma State, who will remove some of the mystery of solar leasing for landowners.  More information is here.
  • Several groups have filed a lawsuit against the USDA for its March 12 withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule finalized during President Obama’s tenure. The rule would have established animal welfare standards for organic producers. Read more about the organizations’ claims in this post by our Ag & Food Law Consortium partner, the National Sea Grant Law Center.
  • Another Consortium partner of ours, Penn State Law, has prepared a comprehensive summary of the current status and legal developments for the problematic Rover Pipeline that is affecting many landowners in Ohio and other states. The summary is here.
  • Ohio legislative activity:
    • The Apiary Immunity bill, H.B. 392, passed the Ohio House on March 21 and was introduced in the Ohio Senate on March 26.  The bill proposes limited liability for registered apiary owners.
    • Fedor (D-Toledo) and Rep. Sheehy (D-Toledo) introduced HCR 25, a resolution encouraging the U.S. EPA Administrator to declare the open waters of Western Lake Erie as impaired, consistent with the Ohio EPA’s recent water quality report we reported on earlier this week.

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The Western Lake Erie Impaired Waters Saga Continues

Written by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The Ohio EPA has released its draft water quality report for 2018 and the report proposes to list the open waters of the Western Basin of Lake Erie as “impaired.” Readers of the Ag Law Blog will remember that the road to this listing has been long and complicated. The numerous posts we’ve written on this subject can be found by searching “impaired waters” on our blog website.

The controversy began in the fall of 2016, when Michigan and Ohio submitted their respective impaired waters lists to the U.S. EPA. Every two years, a regulation promulgated under the Clean Water Act requires states to turn in a list of their impaired waters. Michigan listed the waters of Lake Erie under its jurisdiction as impaired, while Ohio did not list the open waters in the Western Basin of Lake Erie as impaired. The waters described by Michigan as impaired and those not listed by Ohio are basically one in the same, hence the problem. The U.S. EPA approved Michigan’s list in early 2017, but made no decisions about Ohio’s list.

As a result of the discrepancy over Lake Erie, environmental and other groups sued the U.S. EPA to make a decision about Ohio’s impaired waters list. On May 18, 2017, the U.S. EPA approved Ohio’s list. However, on January 12, 2018, the U.S. EPA withdrew its earlier approval and asked Ohio to compile additional data for a new evaluation of the status of the Western Basin of Lake Erie.

With all of this back and forth and litigation, it is now long past the due date for the 2016 impaired waters list. As a result, the draft water quality report submitted by the Ohio EPA on March 22 contains the 2018 list.

Ohio EPA’s 2018 Draft Water Quality Report

In its draft water quality report, the Ohio EPA outlines the general condition of Ohio’s waters and lists “impaired waters” that are not meeting federal or state water quality goals and waters that have improved to meet water quality standards. For the first time, the EPA includes the open waters in the Western Basin of Lake Erie on its impaired list. The impaired designation is for recreational uses “due to harmful algae” and for drinking water “due to occurrences of microcystin.” (Microcystin are harmful toxins created by blue-green algae. More information about these toxins is here.) Other new areas listed as impaired for drinking water due to harmful algae are Sims Run, parts of the Maumee River, the headwaters to Grand River and the headwaters of Cowan Creek in the Little Miami River watershed.

Next steps and public comments

While an impaired listing may not create immediate change in the Western Basin, it will require Ohio to create total maximum daily loads, which are the amounts of different pollutants allowed to be discharged each day in the open waters. This could eventually mean increased regulation of certain pollutants in the area, which may include agricultural nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen. Only time will tell.

The EPA is accepting written comments on its proposed list of impaired waters. Submit comments by May 4, 2018, to epa.tmdl@epa.ohio.gov, or to Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, Ohio 43216-1049, attn: 303(d) comments. Following public review and comments, the agency will submit a final report to the U.S. EPA. The agency published a news release on the draft water quality report and is hosting an upcoming webinar on the report on April 25, 2018.

Read the EPA’s draft water quality report here.

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Ag issues in the federal spending bill

Amidst a great deal of controversy, President Trump signed the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018” on March 23.  The omnibus $1.3 trillion spending package includes a number of provisions that affect agriculture, not all spending related.  One glaring omission from the bill that agriculture wanted, however, was language allowing the EPA to withdraw the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.  Otherwise, the new law contains fixes and clarifications for several key legal issues agriculture has faced in the past year and funding for important agricultural programs.

Section 199A tax deduction revised

Sellers of grain who were hoping to capitalize on the IRC § 199A 20% gross sales deduction when selling grain to their cooperative will be disappointed that the spending bill has removed the deduction and that the removal is retroactive to January 1, 2018.  Congress enacted new provisions that will address sales to cooperatives.  According to my colleague and tax expert Kristine Tidgren at Iowa State, “the cooperative patron is subject to a new bifurcated calculation and a hybrid 199A deduction. Essentially, the fix gives the cooperative patron a deduction that blends the new 199A deduction with the old 199 DPAD deduction (all within the new 199A). Depending upon their individual situations, cooperative patrons may be advantaged, disadvantaged, or essentially treated the same by selling to a cooperative rather than selling to a non-cooperative.”  Read more of Kristine’s analysis here.

CERCLA emissions reporting for livestock goes away

The spending bill incorporates provisions of the “Fair Agricultural Reporting Methods Act” proposed earlier by a bi-partisan group of Senators concerned about a court ruling that subjected farms to air emissions reporting under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) (explained in our previous post).  The EPA had delayed the reporting requirement to May 1, 2018.  The reporting mandate is removed under the new law, however, which states that air emissions from animal waste at a farm are not subject to CERCLA reporting requirements, nor are emissions from the application, handling or storage of registered pesticides.  A “farm” is an area used to produce crops or livestock that have a total value of $1,000 or more.

Electronic logging device rule further delayed

We’ve reported several times on the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule that would require commercial agricultural haulers to utilize electronic technology that automatically records hours-of-service data.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued several waivers that delayed the requirement.  The new spending bill effectively voids the ELD rule until September 30, 2018, by prohibiting the FMCSA from using its funds during that time to implement, administer, or enforce provisions regarding the use of electronic logging devices by operators of commercial motor vehicles transporting livestock or insects.

County-level ACRE pilot program to be established

The spending bill directs USDA to create a 2018 pilot program for county-level agriculture risk coverage (ARC) payments for the 2017 crop year.   Farm Service Agency offices in each State will have the opportunity to provide agricultural producers a supplemental payment to ensure that there are not significant yield calculation disparities between comparable counties in the State.

Rural broadband grant program funded

The law allocates $600,000,000 for the USDA to conduct a new broadband loan and grant pilot program under the Rural Electrification Act.  At least 90 percent of the households to be served by the project receiving a loan or grant under the pilot program must be in a rural area currently without sufficient access to broadband.

Conservation funding maintained

The spending bill maintains full funding levels for farm bill conservation programs and exempts farms participating in conservation programs from obtaining System for Award Management (SAM) and Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) numbers.   The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative received $300 million to carry out activities that would support the Initiative and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, including grants for research, monitoring, outreach, and implementation.

Research funding increased

In stark contrast to significant cuts proposed by the White House, the spending bill contains the largest increase in research funding in over a decade.  Research programs at the USDA would grow by $33 million, to $1.2 billion.  The funding includes a $25 million increase to a $400 million budget for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) established by the 2008 Farm Bill, surprisingly still $300 million shy of the 2008 Farm Bill’s proposed funding level.

Readers can dig into the 2,232 pages of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 here.

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Electronic Logging Device rule compliance delayed for agriculture

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a second 90-day waiver from the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule for agricultural transportation.  The agency had previously issued a waiver that was set to expire on March 18, 2018.  The ELD rule requires commercial haulers to utilize electronic technology that automatically records hours-of-service (HOS) data.

The reason for delaying the ELD rule for agriculture, according to the agency, is to provide more time for the agency to address agriculture’s unique needs.  Agriculture has argued that HOS provisions that mandate a ten hour off-duty period for drivers put agricultural commodities like livestock, fish, bees, and plants at risk by extending the transportation period.  Although the HOS rule contains several exemptions for agriculture, such as for personal conveyances and for transport of commodities within a 150-air mile radius of the source, many argue that the exemptions need further clarification and that electronic logging device technology does not recognize the agricultural exemptions.  In addition to delaying the ELD compliance date for agriculture, FMCSA also promises to provide further guidance on the Hours-of-Service exemptions and their relationship to the ELD rule.   The guidance should help drivers understand if and how the ELD rule applies to their transportation of agricultural goods.

FMCSA’s announcement of the new waiver is available here.  Read our previous post on the ELD rule here.  More information about the ELD rule and agriculture is here and the HOS exemptions for agriculture are here.

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