Legislative Update— Last Monday night, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs heard public testimony on SB 1392, a bill authored by committee chairman Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). SB 1392 is the end result of the previous legislature’s interim charge for the committee to research existing groundwater management policies in the face of a diminishing water supply.
From a big picture perspective, SB 1392 seeks to foster greater cooperation between groundwater conservation districts – the state designated rulemaking authority on groundwater since 1949 – by permitting districts that share a subdivision of a groundwater reservoir to jointly create desired future conditions. At the hearing, Chairman Perry spoke to the need for standardization across districts, particularly in cases where districts may not be implementing the soundest scientific methodology. With recent Texas Supreme Court decisions regarding water rights on the Chairman’s mind, and more pending litigation on the horizon, one can understand his desire to establish a more uniform rulemaking process.
From a closer perspective, however, the bill appears to create numerous vague and cryptic policies that, despite Chairman Perry’s intent, may inevitably result in further litigation. One of the most prevalent questions asked by the forty-plus witnesses on Monday night was how the committee understood “similar rules” to be defined when requiring neighboring districts to “work jointly with other groundwater conservation districts through similar rules…” The chairman and the rest of the committee were unable to define when and how a rule would be deemed similar enough to be acceptable under this law.
There were a variety of testimonies heard by the committee on Monday, and not all were opposed to the bill. Many managers from groundwater conservation districts across the state testified as neutral on the bill, providing expert insight as to how they would interpret the potential new law. A number of these managers questioned the need for the bill in the first place, suggesting that they’ve witnessed districts cooperating and attempting to establish more similar rules already. Almost as many witnesses testified that they had intended to oppose the bill, but upon reading the revised committee substitute, their position had changed to neutral. In almost every case, this was because the original filed version had stripped “historic use” of land as being an acceptable factor when considering water permits. An amendment was adopted before the hearing began, however, to reintroduce “historic use” as an acceptable factor.
In fact, the rollout of the bill and its substitute and amendments resulted in additional apprehension about its merit. After receiving criticism for the language in the original filed version of the bill, the committee worked with stakeholders to draft a committee substitute. That substitute, however, was not completed and distributed to stakeholders until the night before the hearing. Along with leaving a bad taste in many stakeholders’ mouths, the timing made it difficult for interested parties to conduct a thorough analysis of the substitute in time to provide adequate testimony.
TGSA did not register a position for or against SB 1392, nor did we testify as neutral. We share the same reservations that many other commodity groups have expressed about such a massive reform being conducted in such vague and hurried terms, but we wanted to hear the debate play out in the committee hearing before we committed to opposition. After hearing the thoughtful discussion between committee members and stakeholders, we believe it is in the best interest of Texas sorghum producers to oppose this legislation. We believe Chairman Perry’s intentions are noble and his concerns about the future of water availability are valid, but in its current form this bill is likely to create more confusion that would need to be interpreted in the courts. Since we cannot know how the bill will be interpreted until then, and since the current groundwater conservation district model is working for sorghum producers now, we cannot support SB 1392 in any of its forms so far.
Farm Groups Settle Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit with EPA—An ongoing lawsuit regarding whether the EPA may release personal information about farmers, such as family names, phone numbers, GPS coordinates, etc., has been settled. Newly-appointed EPA Secretary, Scott Pruitt signed an agreement with plaintiffs including the American Farm Bureau and the National Pork Producers Council to avoid further litigation. Under the agreement, the EPA agrees that when producing certain records, it will redact this type of personal information, which is exempt from disclosure under the FOIA. EPA will also train its employees on this exemption. This story first ran in Texas Ag Law
Export Report—Export sales commitments were strong again this week with China purchasing 1.8 million bushels. This brings total commitments to 161 million bushels or 71.5 percent of the USDA target for the year. Deliveries were also very strong with China, Japan and Mexico taking delivery of 5.4 million bushels. Both commitments and deliveries are ahead of the 5-year average pace needed to meet the USDA target. Basis continued to be firm on the Mississippi River and the northern plains, but continued to lag in central terminal markets. Gulf Coast basis also remained strong, and there were reports of interest in the timing of harvest from buyers. This indicates the existence of export pull.