Written by M. Sean High – Staff Attorney
The following information is an update of recent, local, state, national, and international legal developments relevant to agriculture:
Pipelines: FERC Issues Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Project Affecting Nearly 2,000 Acres of PA Farmland
On May 5, 2016, staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) regarding the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project proposed by Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC (Transco) (CP15-138-000). According to FERC, “Transco requests authorization to expand its existing pipeline system from the Marcellus Shale production area in northern Pennsylvania to…its existing southeastern market areas.” FERC stated that “[c]onstruction of the Project would affect a total of about 1,907.4 acres of agricultural land in Pennsylvania.” FERC has scheduled the following public meetings to address the proposed pipeline project: June 13, 2016, Lancaster, PA; June 14, 2016, Annville, PA; June 15, 2016, Bloomsburg, PA; and June 16, 2016, Dallas, PA. All comments regarding the draft EIS must be received by FERC on or before June 27, 2016.
Renewable Fuel: EPA Announces Proposed Requirements for Renewable Fuel Standard Program
On May 18, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the agency has “proposed the volume requirements and associated percentage standards that apply under the RFS [Renewable Fuel Standards] program in calendar years 2017 for cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel.” Additionally, EPA announced that the agency was “proposing the volume requirement for biomass-based diesel for 2018.”
Labor: New Electronic Process Introduced for H-2A Program
On May 9, 2016, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) “announced the launch of USCIS/DOS e-Approval for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, for the H-2A (temporary agricultural worker) classification.” Accordingly, with the new electronic process USCIS will have the ability “to send approval information for H-2A petitions to DOS by the end of the next business day.” Additionally, “DOS will accept this electronic information in place of a Form I-797 approval notice and allow its consular posts to proceed with processing an H-2A nonimmigrant visa application, including conducting any required interview.”
Labeling: Case to Compel GMO Crop Documents Transferred to Vermont
On May 13, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware granted a motion by Vermont officials to transfer the case In re: Grocery Manufacturers et al. to the U.S. District Court of the District of Vermont (1:16-mc-00113). The case in question was an action brought by Vermont officials to compel Syngenta Corporation (Syngenta) to produce the results of any Syngenta performed studies or research that relate to the potential health or environmental effects of Syngenta’s genetically engineered crops and the effects of the herbicides and pesticides used to on those crops. According the Motion to Compel, the documents in question “are relevant to the claims and defenses raised by the parties in Grocery Manufacturers Ass’n v. Sorrell, No. 5:14-cv-117 (D. Vt.).
GMOs: Report Finds no Evidence that GE Crops Harmful to Human Health
On May 17, 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a press release announcing the release of a study regarding the effects of genetically engineered (GE) crops. According to the press release “the study committee found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops.” The press release did state, however, that “evolved resistance to current GE characteristics in crops is a major agricultural problem.”
Pesticides: UN Panel of Experts Determines Humans Unlikely to be harmed by Glyphosate
On May 16, 2016, a summary report was issued after a joint meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Panel of Experts on Pesticide Residues in Food and the Environment and the World Health Organization (WHO) Core Assessment Group on Pesticide Residues. According to the report, the joint meeting resulted in the panel of experts determining that the pesticide “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.” Additionally, the panel of experts determined that the pesticides diazinon and malathion were also unlikely to be carcinogenic and were “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”