Thursday, February 1, 2018

Agricultural Law Weekly Review—February 1, 2018

Written by: M. Sean High—Staff Attorney
Contributing: Errin McCaulley—Research Assistant
The following information is an update of recent local, state, national, and international legal developments relevant to agriculture:

Soda Tax: PA Supreme Court Agrees to Rule on Philadelphia Soda Tax
On January 30, 2018, the Legal Intelligencer reported that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments regarding the legality of Philadelphia’s Beverage Tax (PBT) on sugar-sweetened beverages.  The action follows the June 14, 2017, decision by the Commonwealth Court rejecting an appeal brought by beverage dealers seeking to invalidate the 1.5 cent per fluid ounce tax for any sugar-sweetened beverage supplied, acquired, delivered, or transported into Philadelphia for retail sale (Lora Jean Williams, et. al., v. City of Philadelphia, et. al.No. 2077 and No. 2078 C.D. 2016).  The beverage dealers assert that under Pennsylvania's Sterling Act, which prevents duplicate taxation at the state and local level, the PBT is impermissible because the Pennsylvania Tax Code already imposes sales tax on sugary "soft drinks."

WOTUS: Eleventh Circuit Responds to WOTUS Jurisdictional Determination by U.S. Supreme Court
On January 24, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals remanded a lawsuit challenging the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia (Georgia v. Pruitt, Case: 15-14035).  Previously, the district court had ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the WOTUS challenge.  In vacating and remanding the district court order, the Eleventh Circuit cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) January 22, 2018, decision regarding jurisdiction for WOTUS rule challenges (National Assn. of Mfrs. v. Department of Defense No. 16-299).  For more information regarding the SCOTUS decision, please the Center’s January 25, 2018 Agricultural Law Weekly Review.

National Organic Program: Certifying of Hydroponic, Aquaponic and Aeroponic Operations Allowed Under Organic Regulations
On January 25, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a bulletin asserting that the “[c]ertification of hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic operations is allowed under the USDA organic regulations.” According to USDA, such operations may only label these products as organic if the operations: (1) are certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent and (2) maintain compliance with the USDA organic regulations.   USDA stated that while it is currently considering prohibiting aeroponic systems in organic production, the system will continue to be permitted until the completion of an agency review.

Livestock Emissions: Agriculture Ministers Comment on Livestock Production and Climate Change
On January 25, 2018, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development reported that at a recent meeting in Berlin, Germany,  agriculture ministers from 69 countries issued a statement addressing the global livestock sector and climate change.  According to the ministers, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has reported that the livestock sector contributes “14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions globally.” As a result of this potential effect on climate change, the ministers called for implementation of the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s Sustainable Development Goals.  Additionally, the ministers called for rules, standards, and voluntary agreements that create more efficient livestock production systems and lead to reduced livestock GHG emissions. 

Water: Study Shows Wetlands Help Reduce Downstream Nitrogen Pollution
On January 29, 2018, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released a study asserting that wetlands may dramatically help to reduce nitrate levels in rivers and streams.  According to NSF, in highly intensive agricultural areas “excess nitrate from crop fertilizer makes its way into rivers and streams through subsurface drainage channels and agricultural ditches.” NSF stated that according to their research, multiple wetlands (known as wetland complexes) have been shown to be five times more effective than the best land-based nitrogen mitigation strategies at reducing nitrate in rivers and streams.  As a result of these findings, one of the study’s co-authors stated that “wetland restoration could be one of the most effective methods for improving water quality in the face of climate change and the increasing global demand for food."

Pennsylvania Legislation:
Agricultural and Rural Affairs (S)
  • HB 1917 Legislation to strengthen training and oversight of humane society police officers (Committee meeting to consider legislation, January 31, 2018) 

  • SB 816 Legislation to amend Pennsylvania’s Dangerous Dog Law (Committee meeting to consider legislation, January 31, 2018) 

  • HB 1550 Legislation to amend the Agricultural Area Security Law to provide for restrictions and limitations on preserved farmland (Committee meeting to consider legislation, January 31, 2018) 

Agricultural and Rural Affairs (H)
  • Informational meeting on dairy industry issues and any other business that may come before the committee (Scheduled date: February 26, 2018) 

Environmental Resources and Energy (S)
  • HB 1486 Legislation exempting “high tunnels” that meet certain parameters from any requirements under Storm Water Management Act (Act 167 of 1978) (Committee meeting to consider legislation, January 30, 2018) 

Environmental Resources and Energy (H)
  • HB 2034 Legislation to include the chemical element molybdenum in the labeling requirements for agricultural liming materials (Committee voted to report bill as committed, January 24, 2018) 

Pennsylvania Actions and Notices:
Department of Agriculture

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Department of Environmental Protection

State Conservation Commission

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