The Supreme Court could issue a new decision outlining the scope of Clean Water Act jurisdiction by this summer, even as the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers work on a new definition of “waters of the U.S.”
The court announced Monday that it will review a decision from the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals that accepted former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s test in the Rapanos case in 2006. That was a split decision that wetlands and other waters fall under federal jurisdiction if they possess a “significant nexus” to navigable waters.
Take note: The makeup of the court is quite different now than it was 16 years ago. Three new conservative justices are on the court, which may be enough for a decision that makes it more difficult for EPA and the Corps to regulate non-navigable waters.
“If there ever was a time to say that this WOTUS issue will be put to rest, maybe this is it,” said Scott Yager, chief environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, adding he is “cautiously optimistic” that the court will be able to provide “definitive guidance” to EPA and the Corps.
What's next: Both ag and environmental groups are likely to weigh in on the case during briefing that will be held in April and May. Arguments are expected to be scheduled in late April or May.
“We will continue to stay engaged on this issue and are considering what role is appropriate for us in this case,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The petition was filed by an Idaho couple, Chantell and Michael Sackett, who dispute EPA’s determination that an area of their property is wetlands.
Pork producers’ wait continues
Pork producers apparently will have to wait until at least next month to find out whether the high court will take up a challenge to California’s Proposition 12 requirements for sow housing.
The Supreme Court was expected to announce this month whether it would hear oral arguments in a case brought by the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation. But no decision was announced Monday following the justices’ latest conference, and their next conference isn’t until Feb. 18.
The Prop 12 rules took effect at the beginning of the year. They apply to meat that entered commerce after Jan. 1.
Brazil picks up soy harvest pace
Farmers in Brazil’s largest soybean-producing state of Mato Grosso are picking up the harvest pace even as drought conditions worsen further south, according to the consulting firm AgRural. As of Thursday, Brazil was 5% harvested, up from about 1% a week prior, according to the firm, which is based in the state of Paraná.
Isolated areas in Mato Grosso suffered some damages from heavy rains, but overall yields look strong for the state. Elsewhere – particularly in Mato Grosso do Sul and Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul – the drought has done lasting damage, says AgRural. Some areas of the parched states got much needed rain, but it was not enough.
“Overall … volumes and distribution left something to be desired and, with temperatures still very high, the Rio Grande do Sul crop continues to lose potential. Productivity also continues to be pressured by the lack of rain in southern Mato Grosso do Sul,” the firm’s analysts said.
Vax mandate: Federal workers won’t be punished
The federal government is suspending any disciplinary action for employees who aren’t vaccinated or who haven’t sought some type of accommodation. The decision follows a Texas federal judge’s restraining order blocking the mandate.
The announcement from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force came just as agencies were gearing up to take disciplinary action.
President Biden’s executive order “amounts to a presidential mandate that all federal employees consent to vaccination against COVID-19 or lose their jobs,” U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown wrote in Friday's decision. The Justice Department immediately appealed to the 5th Circuit.
Keep in mind: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack last week said 3% of USDA employees weren’t in compliance with the mandate.
USDA committed to filling positions at ERS, NIFA
USDA says it’s making “enormous strides” in filling positions at the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
As of Jan. 1, ERS had 266 permanent employees and NIFA had 296. Those numbers are higher than the latest online data but still short of the approximately 700 that the agencies had in total before they were moved to Kansas City under the Trump administration.
The agencies “have been laser-focused on filling vacancies and building a talented and diverse workforce for the future that will help meet USDA’s mission,” the department said in a statement responding to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists that said the agencies’ move had a devastating impact on the diversity of the workforce.
He said it. “In the coming weeks and months, Americans can expect to see more protections for farmers and ranchers selling products like beef, pork and poultry. More options and better prices for consumers.” - President Biden, at a Monday event where he once again touted his administration’s efforts to increase competition in the food and ag sector.
He said the lack of competition in some industries “literally holds the economy back.”
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