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January 6, 2014

Ag Issues in the Courts

For more information on Newsline, contact: Kari Barbic, Media Specialist, American Farm Bureau Federation, karib@fb.org.

In this day and age advocacy takes place as much in the legal arena as the political one. American Farm Bureau General Counsel talks about the big legal cases expected to shape agriculture in 2014. AFBF’s Johnna Miller has the story.
MillerMore and more new policies are decided in a courtroom and American Farm Bureau general counsel Ellen Steen says three pending cases could have huge impacts on the nation’s farmers and ranchers. The first is a water-related case the Farm Bureau is appealing after a court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency could issue a “pollution diet” on a region of this country.
SteenFor us it really isn’t a regional issue at all. It’s about the scope of EPA’s power to require changes in land use activity, to micro-manage land use decision-making, across a vast landscape to achieve water quality goals. This is something the federal Clean Water Act left to the states, because it involves intensely local land use decisions, but EPA has said it has the power to reach across the landscape and literally say, “you can farm here, but not here. You can build houses here, but not here,” and we challenge that authority.
MillerSteen says the appellate court ruling will set an important precedent that will likely cause many states to chime in. The second case was a great win for agriculture, when a district court rejected EPA’s authority to require West Virginia poultry farmer Lois Alt to get a federal Clean Water Act permit because of regular dust and feathers on her farmyard.
SteenWhen Congress wrote the Clean Water Act and required federal permits for certain types of activities Congress specifically exempted agricultural stormwater. Livestock and poultry farms are agriculture, and stormwater means rainwater. So if it’s agriculture and it’s stormwater from an ordinary farmyard, we say that’s exempt under the Clean Water Act.
MillerAnd so did the district court. The third case will be before the Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear a case involving EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s recognized that the agency has the authority to regulate mobile sources of greenhouse gas emissions – basically vehicles. The question is whether it also has the authority to regulate stationary sources – like factories, or conceivably large farms.
SteenThere are a lot of facilities out there around the countryside that would require permits and a whole addition level of regulation under the federal Clean Air Act if greenhouse gases are going to be regulated under that particular law.
MillerNot only would that possibly mean expensive permits for many large livestock farms, but would also hit power companies, which would mean higher energy costs for everyone. Energy is one of the biggest expenses for farmers and ranchers. Johnna Miller, Washington.

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