Top 10 Ag Stories of 2023: No. 9

Supreme Court Rules on Two Major Ag Cases

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
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The Supreme Court issued two rulings in cases that are expected to affect agriculture for years to come: Sackett v. EPA and National Pork Producers Council v. Ross. (DTN file photo)

Editor's Note: Each year DTN publishes our choices for the Top 10 ag news stories of the year, as selected by DTN analysts, editors and reporters. This year, we're counting them down from Dec. 18 to Dec. 29. On Dec. 31, we will look at some of the runners-up for this year. Today, we continue the countdown with No. 9, looking at two Supreme Court decisions that are expected to affect agriculture for years to come.

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LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The Supreme Court rarely weighs in on one agriculture case in a given year, let alone two cases of major significance.

In 2023, the Supreme Court handed down May rulings in Sackett v. EPA and National Pork Producers Council v. Ross, and both cases have affected and are expected to continue to affect agriculture in big ways in the coming years.

Perhaps the most consequential of the decisions came when the court sided with two Idaho property owners in an ongoing wetlands dispute with EPA, in Sackett v. EPA.

The court ruled the agency's use of the significant nexus test when making Clean Water Act determinations was too broad, essentially throwing into question the Biden administration's recently finalized waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

As a result, the EPA issued an updated final rule in September 2023, removing the test from the text. That led to new lawsuits by ag groups and others who say the EPA broke the law in finalizing the latest rule.

In writing the 5-4 majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said EPA misinterpreted the Clean Water Act's reach on property owned by Michael and Chantell Sackett and illegally had been using the significant nexus test in making determinations.

"In sum, we hold that the CWA extends to only those 'wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are 'waters of the United States' in their own right,' so that they are 'indistinguishable' from those waters," Alito said in his opinion.

"This holding compels reversal here. The wetlands on the Sacketts' property are distinguishable from any possibly covered waters."

As has been the case for many years, the waters of the U.S. rule continues to be mired in controversy.

CONTROVERSIAL PROPOSITION 12

That same month, the Supreme Court also upheld California's controversial Proposition 12 -- an animal-welfare law approved by voters in the state.

Prop 12 makes it a criminal offense and civil violation to sell whole pork meat in California unless the pig it comes from is born to a sow that was housed within 24 square feet of space and in conditions that allow a sow to turn around without touching an enclosure.

The law essentially requires farmers from across the country to adapt their confinement operations if their pork is sold in the state.

It remains to be seen how Proposition 12 affects the U.S. hog industry as a whole.

A Rabobank study estimates at least 15% of U.S. producers would face "considerable cost" to convert their operations.

In addition, in the early implementation of Proposition 12 consumers in California are facing higher prices and restaurants and grocery stores face increasing challenges in finding compliant pork supplies.

To read some of DTN's coverage of the Supreme Court rulings during the year, see:

"SCOTUS Sides With Sacketts in CWA Case," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Experts Weigh Effects of Sackett Case," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"SCOTUS Lets Proposition 12 Stand," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Groups Call Out NPPC on Proposition 12," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

To see more about our DTN countdown, see the Editors' Notebook blog at https://www.dtnpf.com/….

To see the other top stories of the year:

No. 10: "Livestock Producers Lean Into USDA's Livestock Risk Protection Coverage (LRP)," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

You can find No. 8 in DTN's Top 10 list on Dec. 20.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @DTNeeley

Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
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