The Supreme Court kicks off its October term this morning with a wetlands case that many observers think the court will use to trim the federal government’s authority over wetlands.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing an Idaho couple whose attempts to build on their property have been stymied because of jurisdictional wetlands, says a victory could potentially free up millions of acres of land for productive activity, like home construction, farming, or any other land-related resource activity.”

To more than 100 environmental and community groups on the other side, “The extreme outcome sought by the coalition of polluters backing this case would strip protections from millions of miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands, reversing decades of bipartisan practice protecting clean water,” said DJ Gerken, executive director and president of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

A typical prediction: An Ohio State University law professor says the court will probably restrict the federal government’s authority. Significantly, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers are working on their latest regulatory definition of “waters of the U.S.,” which is scheduled to be published after the arguments but before a decision is issued.

Given the changed makeup of the court since 2006, when it issued its fractured Rapanos decision, a logical prediction is that the court will not only set aside the Ninth Circuit’s application of the significant nexus test, but will also adopt [late Justice Antonin Scalia’s] test as the proper way to determine when a wetland is a ‘water of the United States’ subject to EPA jurisdiction,” said Peggy Kirk Hall, associate professor of agricultural and resource law, in a preview of the case.

Former Justice Anthony Kennedy’s test requires that wetlands have a “continuous surface connection” to “relatively permanent, standing or flowing bodies of water” to be deemed waters of the U.S. Scalia’s says such a connection is required between wetlands and “permanent” waters, Hall notes.

Legislators ask for GAO report on USDA enforcement of foreign land reporting law

Reps. Glenn Thompson and James Comer, along with 120 Republican house members, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office on Saturday requesting a study into the Agriculture Department's enforcement of the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act.

AFIDA, passed by Congress in 1978, requires foreign investors to file a form with their local FSA office after purchasing or divesting of land. But an Agri-Pulse investigation found that USDA relies heavily on investors to voluntarily report acquisitions, has only three employees who oversee the reporting law and counts on violators to turn themselves in.

The legislators asked the GAO to study USDA’s procedures for collecting data on land acquisitions, if the Agriculture Department should partner with other agencies to accurately ensure disclosure and what policy improvements could be made to strengthen reporting.

Keep in mind: USDA data indicates that 37.6 million acres — or about 2.9% of the nation’s total farm, ranch and forest land — were under foreign ownership in 2020. Around 32% of the foreign-held acres belonged to entities owned entirely by Canadians and by U.S. corporations with Canadian shareholders.

Lawmakers demand answers on massive aid fraud
House Republicans are demanding that USDA turn over documents related to a massive, $250 million fraud case in Minnesota. The Justice Department has accused a group called Feeding Our Future of bilking the government out of COVID-19 nutrition assistance intended for kids. 
The lawmakers, who include the ranking members of the Education and Labor Committee and the Ag Committee, say in a letter to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack that the “allegations raise many questions about the management of these programs by the Biden Administration.”
Lawmakers leave unfinished business
The new fiscal year is underway, and the government is operating as usual, thanks to a stopgap spending bill that President Biden has signed into law. But lawmakers have scattered for the campaign trail, leaving behind a lot of unfinished business for the lame duck session, including legislation needed to fund the government for fiscal 2023. 
The Senate has failed to act on a pair of bills aimed at increasing competition in livestock markets, including the Cattle Market Transparency Act.
The House last week advanced an extension of the Global Food Security Act that would reauthorize the Feed the Future program through fiscal 2028. The bill also would increase funding for USAID’s Emergency Food Security Program, which is used to provide cash assistance and vouchers to address crises around the world. 
Several pending nominations important to agriculture are still hanging in the Senate. They include Stacy Dean, who has yet to get a hearing on her nomination to be USDA’s undersecretary for food and nutrition programs. 

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Other nominees awaiting action on the Senate floor include Alexis Taylor, Biden’s pick to be undersecretary of trade; Jose Esteban, nominated to be undersecretary for food safety; and Doug McKalip, picked to be USTR's chief ag trade negotiator.
Friday’s Daybreak incorrectly reported, based on information from the Senate press gallery, that Esteban was confirmed Thursday evening.  
EPA proposes measures to protect California species from methomyl

EPA is proposing strategies to reduce the impact of the use of methomyl on three endangered species, in an attempt to identify mitigation early in the pesticide registration review process.

To mitigate potential risks to the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle, the Vernal Pool Tadpole Shrimp and the California Tiger Salamander, the agency has developed measures “that are expected to reduce their exposure to methomyl and their likelihood of being adversely affected.” Proposed measures include “prohibition of methomyl use in some areas, and measures that minimize methomyl spray drift and runoff in areas that extend over the pilot species’ range and critical habitat.”

USDA report shows tight soy and corn stocks

USDA’s latest Grain Stocks report shows that as of Sept. 1, old crop stores of soybeans and corn were higher than they were a year ago, but supplies are still relatively tight, USDA Chief Economist Seth Meyer tells Agri-Pulse.

The NASS report released Friday showed old crop soybeans in storage totaled 274 million bushels and the total was 1.38 billion bushels for corn.

DOJ struggles to stop sugar merger
The Justice Department has suffered another setback in its effort to block United States Sugar Corp.'s acquisition of a rival processor, Imperial Sugar Co. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to issue an emergency injunction while it considers the government’s appeal of the lower court decision
DOJ argues that the merger would allow U.S. Sugar and American Sugar Refining to control the overwhelming majority of sugar sales across the Southeast.

She said it. “We have a shortage of workers in our country, and you see even in Florida, some of the farmers and the growers saying, ‘Why are you shipping these immigrants up north? We need them to pick the crops down here’.” - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, talking to reporters.
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