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SCOTUS decision on WOTUS delivers uncertainty

Agri-Pulse | Posted on January 25, 2018

Current and future court challenges to the “waters of the U.S.” rule must be heard in federal district courts, not circuit courts of appeals, the Supreme Court said Monday in a unanimous decision that ultimately could lead to lawsuits filed all over the country. The court did not buy the arguments of the federal government, most environmental groups and some states that federal appeals courts are the proper venue for litigation over the rule, which has been blasted by the vast majority of farm groups as overly broad but supported by conservation groups that say it strikes the proper regulatory balance. The decision sets up a battle in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals over a nationwide stay of the WOTUS rule that the court issued in October 2015. Because the Supreme Court said that jurisdiction for WOTUS litigation lies in the district court, that means the 6th Circuit will almost certainly have to dissolve its stay wh

Interior eviscerates a fragile wildlife refuge in Alaska behind closed doors during shutdown

Wilderness | Posted on January 25, 2018

Out of public view during the government shutdown today, officials of the U.S. Department of the Interior and Alaska’s King Cove Corporation signed an agreement authorizing a land exchange and construction of a needless road through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and its designated wilderness area. Construction of the road, which prioritizes narrow commercial interests over conservation, would set a dangerous precedent endangering refuges and wilderness areas across the nation, and undermine multiple bedrock environmental and conservation laws including the Wilderness Act, National Environmental Policy Act, National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.Under previous administrations, the federal government has repeatedly studied the issue and determined that the road would cause irreparable harm to the wildlife refuge, that it should not be built, and that viable non-road transportation solutions exist.

Cooperative Sales Could Reap Tax Breaks, or Not, While C-Corps Lose Some Attraction

DTN | Posted on January 25, 2018

While members of Congress try to deconstruct a tax-law change that drives farm sales to cooperatives over private companies, farmers are taking advantage of the law change and wondering whether they will get to continue reaping the rewards. Then there are the farmers who would like to take advantage of some of the new 20% tax breaks for pass-through income, but they sell their commodities through C corporations. Instead of a tax deduction, they could face higher tax rates if they do not restructure those corporations. In the run-up to completing the new tax law, some in Congress worked to offer a counter tax deduction for grain cooperatives. The new provision on "qualified cooperative dividends" from cooperatives was written to benefit not just any patronage dividend, but also any "per unit retain allocation." That translated into any amount paid to patrons for products sold for them. The language also broadens out further into any revenue from a farmer cooperative "that is includible in gross income." The tax break amounts to 20% of all income that comes from those dividends or sales from a farmer cooperative. "That's the problem is it's extremely broad," said Paul Neiffer, an accountant and principal with CliftonLarsonAllen. "It's essentially any payment a cooperative gives to a farmer, including purchasing their crop."If Congress had limited the provision strictly to patronage dividends, then it would be a much smaller issue. And after the implications were flushed out a little bit earlier this month, Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and John Thune, R-S.D., began working with groups representing farmer cooperatives and grain companies to correct the language in the new law.

America must get out of the woods on medical research funding

The Hill | Posted on January 23, 2018

Bipartisan voices have recognized the importance of adequately funding the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with the House and Senate proposing $1-2 billion in increased funding. We may be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief that greater support from the federal government is forthcoming.  But we shouldn’t.  Current proposals, while increases, fail to bring the NIH up to historical funding levels after correction for inflation. And equally importantly, they don’t adequately address support for the myriad other federal agencies which play key roles in supporting medical research. According to ACT for NIH, while any funding increase is positive, it would take $2.6B a year for the next 5 years to get us back to the purchasing power in 2003 – and given the promise of imminent breakthroughs, we should be investing more.

Court due to enforce manure reporting rule Jan. 22

Capital Press | Posted on January 23, 2018

A federal court is expected to finalize an order Monday that will require untold thousands of farms to report that their animals are continuously releasing at least 100 pounds of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide per day, even though there is no generally accepted way to calculate emissions from decaying manure. The Environmental Protection Agency, which argued against the mandate, has instructed producers to email the National Response Center, rather than deluge the Coast Guard-staffed center with phone calls. Within a month, producers will have to follow up and file a form with EPA regional offices.“It’s not going to be fun for producers. It’s not complicated, but it’s different,” Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said. “You check the box and then do something more productive.”The mandate stems from a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the EPA. The groups objected that the EPA exempted agriculture from the Superfund law, which requires factories and vessels to report chemical leaks and spills.

Grain elevators desperate for tax bill fix

Agri-Pulse | Posted on January 20, 2018

Key senators are scrambling to rework a benefit for farmer cooperatives that was created by the new tax law, and the fix couldn’t come soon enough for owners of private elevators like Doug Bell.  The co-op provision was meant to replace the cooperatives’ Section 199 deduction that the law repealed, but tax experts say that the new deduction is so lucrative that farmers will have a strong incentive to sell to a co-op rather than a privately owned or publicly held grain buyer. In fact, so lucrative is the co-op benefit that some private grain buyers are said to be looking at forming co-ops to take advantage of the new provision. 

New England congressional delegations submit bill to ban offshore drilling

Maine Press Herald | Posted on January 17, 2018

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives from New England has introduced a bill to prohibit oil and gas drilling off the New England coast. The New England Coastline Protection Act would prohibit oil and gas extraction activities off New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.It’s a response to the Trump administration’s planto open nearly all U.S. coastlines to offshore oil and gas drilling.

Prairie dog endangered-species plan eases rules under Trump

The Salt Lake Tribune | Posted on January 17, 2018

Wildlife managers under the Trump administration are moving to loosen endangered-species protections for Utah prairie dogs, flipping the script in a long-running conflict over federal policies in a town where residents say they’re overrun by the creatures.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan would allow prairie dogs to be killed or removed from private property more often, relaxing regulations designed to protect the species.

US Supreme Court Won't Hear Prairie Dog Protections Lawsuit

US News and World Report | Posted on January 17, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from Utah property owners challenging endangered-species protections for prairie dogs, but the plaintiffs say the case has nevertheless made a mark as the Trump administration moves to loosen the rules.The lawsuit was a key driver of the new federal plan that would make it easier to remove or kill prairie dogs when they interfere with development of homes and business, lawyers for the residents of the southwestern city of Cedar City said Monday.

Nearly all members of National Park Service advisory panel resign in frustration

The Washington Post | Posted on January 17, 2018

More than three-quarters of the members of a federally chartered board advising the National Park Service have quit out of frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year. The resignation of 10 out of 12 National Park System Advisory Board members leaves the federal government without a functioning body to designate national historic or natural landmarks. It also underscores the extent to which federal advisory bodies have become marginalized under the Trump administration. In May 2017, Zinke suspended all outside committees while his staff reviewed their composition and work. In a letter to the secretary on Monday, departing board chairman Tony Knowles, a former Alaska governor, wrote that he and eight other members “have stood by waiting for the chance to meet and continue the partnership . . . as prescribed by law.” All of the signatories, who serve as unpaid volunteers, had terms set to expire in May.,