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Farmers National
Special thanks to Farmers National for their continued support of excellence in land knowledge and professional connections as we move into 2014! They will continue to be a Platinum Sponsor in 2014 and are a 2014 Land Conference Partner.


DC Updates


Government Affairs


Update 4/16/2014 Health Care: Practitioners Not Employees

New federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) regulations make clear that real estate sales associates are considered independent contractors and not employees, and thus not to be counted as employees under "Shared Responsibility for Employers" provisions of the health care law. Previous ACA regulations were silent on the status of real estate practitioners and NAR last year requested their status be explicitly deemed independent contractors.  For more info contact Evan Liddiard, 202-383-1083. 


Update 4/3/2014 Congress Set to Extend Special Tax Brakes

The Senate Finance Committee is working to retroactively extend several tax breaks that expired on January 1, 2014. The committee chairman indicates that since tax reform may not happen before the November Congressional elections, may businesses and Americans will miss out on many important tax breaks. 

Read the press release.


Update 4/3/2014 USDA Resources on the Agricultural Act of 2014

The Agricultural Act of 2014 impacts every American and millions of people around the world. Read the USDA's progress reports or watch videos from Agricultural Secretary. 

The bill was signed into law on February 7, and will remain in force through 2018 or beyond. USDA provides resources on the highlights and economic implications in crop commodity programs, dairy and livestock, conservation, nutrition, rural development, research and extension, energy, crop insurance, specialty crops, organic agriculture, and beginning farmers and ranchers. See these overviews from the Economic Research Center of the USDA.


Update 4/3/2014 Clean Water Act 

WAC Talking Points on Release of the (Waters of the United States) WOTUS Rule

Interpretive Rule Governing Exemptions for Farming/Ranching Summary

Critical Concerns with the Proposed "Waters of the U.S." Rule


Update 3/28/2014 Institute Signs on to Letter to FAA Administrator on the benefits of Unmanned Aircraft Systems

The Institute signed onto a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Huerta on the benefits of drones and how the publication  of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) is missing a critical piece. As each day passes that commericial integration is delayed, the US continues to fall behind. 

Read the full letter.


Update 3/28/2014 Five Facts on How the Farm Bill Can Help Wetlands and Other Important Landscapes

1.  Wetlands provide valuable habitat for wildlife, protect against flooding and improve water quality – among many other benefits.

2.  Conservation easements offered by NRCS enable farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to set aside and protect wetlands and other crucial landscapes on working agricultural lands.

3.  More than 2.7 million acres were enrolled in the former Wetlands Reserve Program, WRP, in its 21-year history.

4.  WRP was merged with two other easements programs, the Grassland Reserve Program and Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, to form one: the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program, or ACEP. ACEP has two components; agricultural land easements and wetland reserve easements.

5.  Learn more about ACEP and the other conservation easement program, the Healthy Forests Reserve Program, by visiting www.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.


Update 3/21/2014 Flood Insurance Bill Signed Into Law

On March 21, the administration signed into law the "Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act." The bipartisan measure repeals FEMA's authority to increase premium rates at time of sale or new flood map, and refunds the excessive premium to those who bought a property before FEMA warned them of the rate increase. Premium increases are limited to 18% annually on newer properties and 25% for older properties. 

View NAR's section by section analysis of the measure.


Update 3/19/2014 Busting Myths about the FAA and Unmanned Aircraft-Update

The FAA received an overwhelming response to the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Mythbusters February 26, web item.  In response to inquiries, the FAA provides additional information on UAS operations and the regulations that apply to those operations.

Read common myths and the clarifying facts.


Update 3/13/2014 Flood Insurance Bill Clears Congress

The Senate voted Thursday, 72-22, to approve bipartisan legislation that would block dramatic increases in premiums paid by some property owners under the federal flood insurance program. The bill will be sent to President Obama who is expected to sign it. 

Read the NAR press release


Update 3/6/2014  Livestock Producers Affected by Severe Weather Urged to Keep Good Records

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Juan M. Garcia, today repeated his appeal to livestock producers affected by natural disasters such as the drought in the West and the unexpected winter storm in the upper Midwest to keep thorough records. This includes livestock and feed losses, and any additional expenses that are a result of losses to purchased forage or feed stuff.  

Read the full press release.


Update 3/4/2014  Realtors® Applaud House Passage of Bipartisan Flood Insurance Affordability Bill

The following is a statement by National Association of Realtors® President Steve Brown:

“The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, H.R. 3370, passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. House today, is a responsible and balanced solution to the dramatic flood insurance rate increases unintentionally triggered by the Biggert-Waters reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program.

“As the leading advocate for homeownership and housing issues, NAR applauds this bill, which protects homeowners from the drastic premium increases that went into effect on October 1, 2013, and holds the Federal Emergency Management Agency accountable for any flood insurance policy changes.

“Homeowners nationwide, on the coasts and also inland, who are experiencing financial hardship because of extreme and sudden premium increases will feel immediate relief from this bill, which ensures a slow and steady phase in of risk-based increases.

Read the full press release.  


Update 3/4/2014  House passes Flood Insurance Bill with Amendments

On March 4, 2014, the House voted 306-91 to approve the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (H.R. 3370) with amendments. The House amendments further reign in and hold the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) accountable for the Biggert-Waters implementation issues. 


Updates 3/4/2014 USDA Guide to the new Farm Bill Conservation Programs

See the USDA quick summary of changes made to conservation programs in the new Farm Bill. These programs are administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.  The new Farm Bill streamlines conservation programs that enable farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to get assistance.


Update 2/26/2014 A House GOP proposal for tax reform is  dead on arrival


Update 2/26/2014 The House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Dave Camp released a discussion draft, today, for taxation reform. 

Here are some highlights of the plan:


  • It proposes three tax brackets, down from the current seven — 10%, 25%, and 35%. The 35% level would start at incomes above $400,000 for individual filers and at $450,000 for joint filers.
  • It would increase the standard deduction to $11,000 for individuals and $22,000 for married couples.
  • It would simplify six family tax benefits to three. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit would be turned into a payroll tax exemption.
  • It would lower the U.S. corporate tax rate to 25%, something supported by the White House.
  • It would end a break that lowers taxes on so-called carried interest income for private-equity managers.
  • It would slash 15 education-related tax breaks into five.


View the full discussion draft here

View the NAR press Release that was distributed in response to this draft.


Update 2/24/2014 House to Vote on Flood Insurance

The House is scheduled to vote up-or-down on an amended version of H.R. 3370, the Flood Insurance Affordability Act, during the first week of March. The original bill text has been stripped and replaced by substitute language that considerably strengthens the bill. The substitute bill will be considered under an expedited set of “suspended rules” procedures that limits debate and amendments, and requires a 2/3 majority to pass. This is a critical vote on a top NAR member priority.  We cannot predict the fall-out if this vote fails. Read more.


Update 2/24/2014 Letter to House members on tax reform discussion of House Ways and Means Committee

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) distributed a letter to all House Members today re-emphasizing its position on vital tax provisions that are being considered for revision by the House Ways and Means Committee which is chaired by Dave Camp.  A draft of the tax reform discussion of this Committee is likely to come out on Wednesday of this week.  According to Evan M. Liddiard, CPA, Senior Policy Representative, Federal Taxation National Association of REALTORS®, no changes or enactment are likely to occur in 2014.  However, NAR is "being heard."

The Government Affairs Committee of the REALTORS® Land Institute and its Government Affairs Liaison through NAR, Russell Riggs, have been actively involved in discussions regarding this.  If you have questions or information to share, please contact George Harvey, Government Affairs Committee Chair, at george@theharveyteam.net

View the letter.


Update 2/17/2014 Report from Chuck Wingert, ALC, on Land Improvement Contractors of America meetings on Capitol Hill


Update 2/11/2014 EPA Revises Permitting Guidance for Using Diesel Fuel in Oil and Gas Hydraulic Fracturing

WASHINGTON-- Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released revised underground injection control (UIC) program permitting guidance for wells that use diesel fuels during hydraulic fracturing activities. EPA developed the guidance to clarify how companies can comply with a law passed by Congress in 2005, which exempted hydraulic fracturing operations from the requirement to obtain a UIC permit, except in cases where diesel fuel is used as a fracturing fluid.

EPA is issuing the guidance alongside an interpretive memorandum, which clarifies that class II UIC requirements apply to hydraulic fracturing activities using diesel fuels, and defines the statutory term diesel fuel by reference to five chemical abstract services registry numbers. The guidance outlines for EPA permit writers, where EPA is the permitting authority, existing class II requirements for diesel fuels used for hydraulic fracturing wells, and technical recommendations for permitting those wells consistently with these requirements. Decisions about permitting hydraulic fracturing operations that use diesel fuels will be made on a case-by-case basis, considering the facts and circumstances of the specific injection activity and applicable statutes, regulations and case law, and will not cite this guidance as a basis for decision.

Although developed specifically for hydraulic fracturing where diesel fuels are used, many of the guidance’s recommended practices are consistent with best practices for hydraulic fracturing in general, including those found in state regulations and model guidelines for hydraulic fracturing developed by industry and stakeholders. Thus, states and tribes responsible for issuing permits and/or updating regulations for hydraulic fracturing may find the recommendations useful in improving the protection of underground sources of drinking water and public health more broadly


Update 2/7/2014 Farm Bill Signed into law-Summary or Full Legislation


Update 2/4/2014 Senate Approves Farm Bill

Today, the U.S. Senate passed a nearly $1 trillion farm bill 68-32. The measure, after two years of negotiations, is now headed to the White House for final approval. If the administration approves, the measure will be signed into law.  Last week, the bill was approved by the U.S. House 251 to 166.

To learn more, read the Washington Post article Senate sends farm bill to Obama. 

Farm Bill Summary

Full Farm Bill Legislation


Update 1/30/2014 Senate Passes Flood Insurance Bill

The United States Senate voted 67-32, yesterday to approves the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (S. 1926).

The legislation calls for a four-year timeout on rate increases triggered either by a property's sale or a flood map update for a property with previously grandfathered rates. The bill also creates a flood insurance advocate within the Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) to investigate home owner complaints of multiple different or excessive rate quotes.

The bipartisan measure heads to the House of Representatives. More. 


Update 1/29/2014 Farm Bill Passes in House, Sent to Senate for Final Approval 

After three years of negotiations, the United States House of Representatives approved a $956,400,000,000 farm bill today. The measure passed 251 to 166. The legislation makes significant changes to the nation's farm support programs, and cuts billions of dollars in federal food stamp aid.

This Friday, the Senate is expected to give final approval and then send to the White House to be signed into law. The bill, nearly two years behind schedule, continues the congressional tradition of marrying the nation's agricultural policy with money for the federal food stamp program, which usually accounts for 80 percent of the bill's funding.

The bill authorizes the end of direct government payments made to farmers, revamps and consolidates dozens of federal conservation programs, tweaks several subsidy programs for the nation's crops, and cuts billions of dollars in federal food stamp money. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the measure is expected to cut federal spending by $16 billion over the next decade.

Farm Bill Summary

Full Farm Bill Legislation


Update 1/23/2014 "Today in Energy" Brief

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s new “Today in Energy” brief looks at what’s behind the low propane inventories and high propane prices in the Midwest.

“With the onset of severely cold weather seen over the past weeks, propane supplies in the Midwest are extremely tight. The Midwest spot price of propane at Conway, Kansas, has spiked far above the Gulf Coast spot price at Mont Belvieu, Texas. The high propane prices in the Midwest are the result of both increased demand for crop drying in November and increased demand for space heating in the current cold weather.” EIA’s Today in Energy


Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Thomson Reuters

Note: PADD denotes Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts; HGL refers to hydrocarbon gas liquids

The “Today in Energy” brief was posted Thursday on EIA’s website (www.eia.gov) .

If you  have follow-up questions, you can contact the EIA analyst who wrote the brief: Mason Hamiltonat 202-586-7105, Thomas.Hamilton@eia.gov


Update 1/23/2014 USDA Announces Investments in Business and Rural Economic Development

Funding will help create jobs, provide technical assistance

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA is investing in rural businesses to help create jobs and spur economic development.

"These investments will help businesses expand, help rural communities grow their economies and help support the community-based development goals of the Obama administration," Vilsack said. "USDA is providing loans and grants to our local partners who can leverage this money with funds from other sources for projects that will have broad economic impacts.

The funding is being provided through USDA's Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG) program. Under this program, USDA provides zero-interest loans to utilities that lend funds to local businesses for projects to create and retain employment in rural areas. These revolving loan funds broaden the program's reach and create a multiplier effect for its impact.

Read the full press release.


Update 1/17/2014  Letter to Senate Finance Committee on Tax Reform Discussion Draft

The REALTORS® Land Institute officially signed onto a letter to the Senate Finance Committee stressing the severe, widespread effects the Committees cost recovery and accounting tax reform discussion draft letter could have on U.S. real estate activity. 

The proposed reforms could reduce real estate investment and development, ultimately lower real estate values and crippling the industry's ability to create new jobs.

Read the full letter.


Update 1/10/2014 FAA Moving Forward on Drone Policy

The FAA has taken another important step in developing a policy that will allow Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) to operate in the U.S. airspace by choosing six demonstration sites  around the country. These congressionally-mandated test sites will conduct critical research into the certification and operational requirements necessary to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace over the next several years.  In selecting the six test site operators, the FAA considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience and risk.

The information and data collected through these demonstration sites will be integrated into a proposed rulemaking, which is scheduled for release late in 2014.  FAA was tasked by Congress in 2012 to develop a regulatory program that integrates UASs into the U.S. airspace by 2015, while addressing issues related to safety, national security and privacy.   Press Release.


Update 1/10/2014 Broad Based Real Estate Coalition Comments on Senate Tax Reform Discussion Draft 

In November, 2013, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) released a tax reform discussion draft addressing cost recovery and tax accounting.  This discussion draft included several proposals that would be devastating to commercial real estate, including:

  • Lengthening the depreciable life of real property to 43 years;
  • Repealing section 1031 like-kind exchanges;
  • Taxing gains on the sale of depreciable real property at ordinary income rates instead of the current-law 25% rate, to the extent of all prior depreciation;
  • Repeal of the section 179D tax deduction for energy efficient buildings.

A broad-based real estate industry coalition commented on this draft listing of proposed tax reforms.  The primary message is that these kinds of tax increases on real estate ownership and investment would have a chilling effect on real estate activity, lower real estate values, and stifle the real estate industry’s ability to continue creating new jobs just as the economic recovery shows signs of picking up steam.  While the Coalition applauded the objective of creating a modern, simpler, and fairer tax system to jumpstart economic growth, the proposals put forward would neither promote tax neutrality nor stimulate job growth in the real estate sector, which contributes nearly one-fifth to our Nation’s GDP.  On the contrary, if enacted in their current form, the proposals threaten to derail the main engine of the economic recovery, real estate activity and investment. 

In the letter, the Coalition recognized the need for reform.  “The members of our organizations look forward to working with the Committee in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that tax reform helps strengthen the economic recovery and spurs job creation by removing unnecessary tax obstacles to real estate investment and activity.”


Update 12/30/2013 FAA Selects Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research and Test Sites

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced the selection of the six public entities that will develop unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research and test sites around the country. These congressionally-mandated test sites will conduct critical research into the certification and operational requirements necessary to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace over the next several years. Read more.

Update 12/27/2013  Committee Meeting Minutes: 2013 Global Business and Alliances Committee (11/8/2013)

Update 12/24/2013 Scientific Panel to Advise EPA to Consider Link Between Wetlands, Downstream Waters 

Update 12/18/2013 No New Farm Bill in 2013

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a stopgap farm measure on Thursday, Dec. 12 to avert a potential doubling in dairy prices next month while lawmakers wrap up a new farm bill that cuts food stamps for the poor and expands subsidized crop insurance. Lawmakers passed the bill, which extends current law until Jan. 31, on a voice vote and sent it to the Senate, where the Democratic leaders oppose it and chances of passage are low.  Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, says a sizable number of senators oppose the extension because it may trigger $5 billion in "direct payment" subsidies to growers. The new farm bill would end those subsidies.

The four top farm bill negotiators hope to agree soon on a framework for the new law so it can be passed when Congress returns to work in the new year. The Farm Bill Conference Committee, composed of congressional representatives from the Senate and House, has been working since October but as yet has failed to agree on what should be in the bill.

The Senate and the House have each passed their own vastly different versions. Dairy support programs, the subsidy payment basis and nutrition assistance (the SNAP program) have been the most heavily debated issues.

Congress is more than a year late in replacing the 2008 farm law, which expired in fall 2012 but was extended until Sept. 30. Dairy subsidies will revert on Dec. 31 to terms of an underlying 1949 law that would double the price of milk in grocery stores.


Update 12/18/2013 Letter on Tax Reform to the House Ways and Means Committee


Update 12/11/2013  Agriculture, Navy Secretaries Promote U.S. Military Energy Independence with 'Farm-to-Fleet'

Program blends homegrown biofuels with conventional fuels, propelling ships, jets and jobs.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2013 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus today announced the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Navy's joint "Farm-to-Fleet" venture will now make biofuel blends part of regular, operational fuel purchase and use by the military. The announcement incorporates the acquisition of biofuel blends into regular Department of Defense (DOD) domestic solicitations for jet engine and marine diesel fuels. The Navy will seek to purchase JP-5 and F-76 advanced drop-in biofuels blended from 10 to 50 percent with conventional fuels. Funds from USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) will assist the effort. Read more.

Update 12/4/2013 74 Projects in 40 States Will Improve Service for More than 211,000 Rural Residents

WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2013 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced funding for projects in 40 states to finance investments in improved water and wastewater systems for more than 200,000 rural residents.

"Rural businesses and residents need access to clean water and modern waste disposal systems. This isn't just an economic issue, it's an issue of basic health and safety," said Vilsack. "Water and wastewater projects like these help safeguard rural access to a modern, working infrastructure, which in turn ensures a decent quality of life and helps attract – and keep – the best and brightest in small towns across America."

Vilsack noted that passage of a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs bill would help tackle the $2.1 billion backlog of shovel-ready rural water/wastewater projects, and said the bill is vital to rural communities. These are just some of the reasons why Congress should pass a comprehensive bill as soon as possible, he said.

In today's announcement, USDA is providing $203 million to finance 74 water and infrastructure improvement projects in 40 states.

Update 12/1/2013 Minutes from the 2013 Commercial Real Estate Research Advisory Board on November 7, 2013


Update 11/25/2013 AG Producer Grant

"U.S. agriculture is connected to one in 12 American jobs, and value-added products from homegrown sources are one important way that agriculture generates economic growth," Vilsack said. "Supporting producers and businesses to create value-added products strengthens rural economies, helps fuel innovation, and strengthens marketing opportunities for producers – especially at the local and regional level."

The funding is being made available through the Value-Added Producer Grant program. Grants are available to help agricultural producers create new products, expand marketing opportunities, support further processing of existing products or goods, or to develop specialty and niche products. They may be used for working capital and planning activities. The maximum working capital grant is $200,000; the maximum planning grant is $75,000.

Eligible applicants include independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, and agricultural producer groups. Funding priority is given to socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers or ranchers, and to small- to medium-size family farms, or farmer/rancher cooperatives.


Update 11/21/2013 New White House Rural Council Report Highlights the Economic Importance of Passing a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill

The Administration has made clear that passing a comprehensive farm bill is a priority, and of importance for every American. The White House today is releasing a new report, which explains what is at stake in this debate. You can read the full report HERE.


Update 11/19/2013  Flood Insurance Affordability Bill

Introduced On October 29, 2013, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Johnny Isakson(R-GA) introduced the NAR-supported "Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act" (S. 1610), to delay unintended rate increases under the Biggert-Waters law and its implementation. Representatives Michael Grimm (R-NY) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) have introduced an identical bill in the House (H.R. 3370). The bipartisan measure essentially calls for a 4-year "time out" on further implementation of the rate structure until FEMA completes the affordability study required by Biggert-Waters and also proposes a regulatory solution to issues found in the study. The bill's delay would apply to any property that is grandfathered or purchased after July 2012, including second homes and commercial properties. The other property owners will still see any rate increases capped at 20-25% a year. The bill would also create a Flood Insurance Advocate within FEMA to investigate and assist property owners with verifying the accuracy of flood insurance rate quotes. The bill was introduced with an impressive list of 15 Senate and 65 House original sponsors. NAR will continue pressing for additional co-sponsorship and urging its immediate consideration by Congress.



Update 11/06/2013 Water Advocacy Coalition- Comments on the U.S. EPA Draft Report: Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence (September 2013) (EPA-HQ-OA-2013-0582)

The REALTORS® Land Institute joined the Water Advocacy Coalition. This letter presents concerns to the EPA from the Coalition regarding the Synthesis Report and its use as the scientific basis for the agencies' rule-making. 

Update 11/01/2013 Government Affairs Special Update from Government Affairs Liaison, Russell W. Riggs

Update 10/29/2013 Conservation Program for Farmers

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2013 – Farmers waiting for their Conservation Security or Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) payments should receive them in the coming days. The shutdown of the federal government delayed some of the $907 million in payments from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to CSP participants who have enrolled millions of acres to improve the overall conservation performance of their operations. Read more.

Update 10/2013 Agroforestry: USDA Reports to America, Fiscal Years 2011-2012--In Brief

Agroforestry is a management approach that intentionally combines agriculture and forestry to create more sustainable land-use systems. The USDA has published a brief to educate on the expansion of agroforestry and its ability to enhance productivity, bring environmental benefits, and increase profitability. Learn how to partner with the USDA to put trees to work land. View the brief.

Update 10/22/13 Lack of Farm Bill Puts Limits on How USDA Helps Storm-Ravished Producers -Tanya Brown

Despite the lack of a farm bill, farmers and ranchers in South Dakota affected by the Atlas Blizzard may be eligible for assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services Michael Scuse announced that help is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a conservation financial assistance program. The storm killed an estimated 15,000 – 30,000 head of cattle, but the lack of a farm bill stops the Livestock Disaster Assistance Program from kicking in and helping since it expired in 2011 with the last farm bill, according to Scuse. “In terms of being able to provide significant financial assistance, Congress needs to pass a farm bill that includes a livestock disaster assistance program, but USDA will provide as much help as our limited resources allow,” said Scuse. EQIP will help producers protect water quality by disposing of livestock carcasses, replacing destroyed fencing and rebuilding shelterbelts, along with other conservation efforts. Producers can sign up for the program through Nov. 15. Learn More.

Update 10/21/13 USDA Issues Conservation Reserve Program Rental Payments, Direct Payments and ACRE Payments

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2013 — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA has begun distributing Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) annual rental payments to participants across the country. USDA also will distribute 2013 direct payments and 2012 Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program payments beginning Oct. 24. Payments originally were scheduled to be issued earlier in the month, but were delayed by several weeks due to the lapse in Federal funding. Read more.

Update 9/27/13 USDA Releases Annual Report of Foreign Investors' Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land 


USDA Releases Annual Report of Foreign Investors’ Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land


WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2013 — USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has released its annual publication regarding foreign investors’ holdings of United States agricultural land. The publication contains statistics that are current through Dec. 31, 2011.


The report, titled “Foreign Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land Through December 31, 2011,” is now available on the FSA website at

The data gathered through Dec. 31, 2011, indicate that foreign investors hold an interest in 25,715,588 acres of U.S. agricultural land, which is approximately 2 percent of all privately held U.S. agricultural land, and 1 percent of all land in the U.S. The total foreign-held U.S. agricultural acres as of the last report, dated Dec. 31, 2010, were 24,224,807, resulting in an increase of 1,490,781 acres. Read more.

Update 9/27/13 Protecting Rural Communities 


NAR sent letters to key Congressional Appropriators last week, urging them to protect rural communities. Under existing law, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) must revise the list of communities eligible for rural housing loans based on the 2010 census data. NAR has been successful in extending the deadline for the last 2 years, but the current provision expires on Sept. 30, 2013.  By that date, USDA will revert to using a definition not updated since 1974 which requires communities to: (1) be outside of a metropolitan statistical area (MSA), (2) be "rural in character", (3) have a serious lack of mortgage credit, and (4) have a population under 20,000.


Rural families face unique difficulties in finding access to safe, affordable mortgage financing.  Programs like the Rural Housing Section 502 Loan Program are instrumental in providing opportunities for home ownership for these families. Section 502 loans can be used to build, repair, renovate or relocate a home, or to purchase and prepare sites, including providing water and sewage facilities. These loans are funded by private lenders, and simply insured by the RHS. The Section 502 program is self-funded and budget neutral, meaning that broadening the population definition will not place additional financial burden on American taxpayers. In 2011, the RHS helped nearly 140,000 rural American families become homeowners.


Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate. The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill each include a one-year extension, but it is unlikely these will become law before Sept. 30th.  There is also a long-term extension provided in the Senate-passed Farm bill, but that legislation also has an uncertain future. NAR is now working to ensure that language is included in the Continuing Resolution, which the Congress is expected to pass in late September.

Update 9/27/13 EPA Proposed Rule on Waters of the U.S. 


On September 17, 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) announced a joint proposed rule that purports to clarify which streams, wetlands and other waters are "waters of the United States" and subject to jurisdiction under the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA).  The agencies sent the proposed rule to the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) but have not yet released it to the public. The OMB has 90 days to act on the EPA's submission.


In support of the proposed rule, the agencies have released a draft science report titled "Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence" (Draft Study).  The Draft Study is a compilation of independent peer-reviewed scientific literature that, when finalized, is intended to provide the scientific basis for the agencies to clarify CWA jurisdiction through the rulemaking process.  The agencies could issue a final version of the Draft Study and publish a draft rule in the Federal Register in early 2014.


In 2012, the agencies announced their intent to undertake a rulemaking to clarify which waters of the United States are jurisdictional in light of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have "muddied the waters."  One focus of the Draft Study, and likely the joint proposed rule, is the important effect that "ephemeral" and "intermittent" streams have on downstream rivers, lakes, estuaries and oceans.  The Draft Study also addresses the effect of isolated wetlands. 


NAR is working closely with industry partners and the Waters Advocacy Coalition to refute the conclusions of the study and conduct an economic impact analysis of the proposed regulation.

The Government Affairs Committee is aware and involved in the process. We are working with the Waters Advocacy Coalition through our affiliation with NAR and our Government Affairs Liaison in Washington, D.C, Russell Riggs.  

Update 8/5/13  EPA Updates Oil and Gas Standards for Storage Tanks 


WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued updates to its April 2012 oil and natural gas standards for storage tanks, which allow responsible oil and natural gas production while ensuring air emissions are reduced as quickly as possible. The updates will phase in emission control deadlines, starting with higher-emitting tanks first, and will provide the time needed to ramp up the production and installation of controls. EPA is making the changes based on information received after the 2012 standards were issued that shows more storage tanks will come online than the agency originally estimated. 

More information can be found here. 

Update 7/31/13  Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Economic Development Funding to Support Business Growth, Create Jobs in Rural Areas

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that projects in 30 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will be funded to support small and emerging rural businesses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. Today's announcement is one part of the Department's efforts to strengthen the rural economy. More. 

Update 7/29/13  Farm Credit System fights back in challenge to its tax subsidies 


In a letter to the Senate Finance Committee, the Farm Credit System has challenged claims by bankers that the tax subsidies its receives should be removed as part of tax reform.


The American Bankers Association (ABA) and the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) have been going after federal tax exemptions and subsidies held by their competitors, credit unions and Farm Credit lenders, with their own letters and lobbying in Congress.


“As is typical of the ABA and ICBA, their letters are misleading and factually lacking,” Mary Fritz, chairwoman of the Farm Credit Council, wrote. She said Farm Credit institutions are cooperatives and are more comparable to Subchapter S banks, which total more than half of all banks and pay an effective tax rate of 1.4 percent. “This rate is considerable less than that paid by the Farm Credit System,” she wrote.


Fritz also argued that banks receive their own taxpayer support through, among other things, the Federal Home Loan Bank System, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.


“They can even gain access to funding from the Farm Credit System,” Fritz wrote. “The ABA and ICBA conveniently overlook these details because they don’t fit with their ‘woe is me’ story line.”

Update 7/26/13  Flood Insurance Legislative Update

With NAR’s support, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) successfully added a 1-year delay of “grandfathered” flood insurance rates to the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Bill as approved by committee on July 18. The House-passed version also includes this provision. Next, the full Senate must vote on the measure.

A grandfathered rate is a discount given to a homeowner when the community’s flood risk is increased with a map update, because the home was built and maintained in compliance with the previous standards. These homes are often allowed to keep the lower rate from the older flood map.

These grandfathered as well as other subsidized flood insurance rates are being phased out under the Biggert-Waters Act that extended the National Flood Insurance Program for five years.  The amendment would delay the phase-out for properties “grandfathered” under older rates in areas remapped into higher-priced flood zones before Sept. 30, 2014.  

The law’s other phase-out provisions – for older second homes and business properties and for homes purchased after July 2012 – will continue to go into effect on Oct. 1, 2013.  NAR is working on a longer delay and expanding it to include the other subsidy phase-outs, in addition to grandfathered properties.

Update 7/26/13  Feedstock Flexibility Program Final Rule Published 


WASHINGTON, July 26, 2013 -- The Farm Service Agency announced the final Feedstock Flexibility Program(FFP) rule went on public display today and will be published in the Federal Register on Monday, July 29, 2013.Congress created the FFP in the 2008 Farm Bill, allowing for the purchase of excess sugar to produce bioenergy in order to avoid forfeiture of sugar pledged as collateral by processors when securing short-term commodity loans from USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).


Federal law allows sugar processors to obtain loans from the CCC with maturities of up to nine months when the sugarcane or sugar beet harvest begins. Upon loan maturity, the sugar processor may repay the loan in full or forfeit the collateral (sugar) to the government to satisfy the loan. The last time sugar forfeitures occurred was in 2004 but atypical market conditions have necessitated USDA to take a number of actions this crop year to manage the sugar supply at the least cost to the federal government. If needed, FFP is an additional tool to manage the domestic sugar surplus.


As part of continuing efforts to manage the surplus, USDA is currently operating a purchase of sugar from domestic sugarcane processors under the Cost Reduction Options of the Food Security Act of 1985, and simultaneously will exchange this sugar for credits offered by refiners holding licenses under the Refined Sugar Re-export Program. 

Update 7/23/13 Tax Principles Letter to the Senate

The Senate is currently addressing tax reform that includes Tax Deferred 1031 Exchanges. The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) developed a letter that specifically addresses the reforms being considered. The RLI Government Affairs Committee, in collaboration with the RLI Executive Committee, suggested modifications to the letter that specifically addressed land issues. These modifications were included in the letter, and the Institute signed on to the correspondence. 

Here is the communication that was submitted to the Senate. 

Update 7/22/13  USDA Announces Results for 45th Conservation Reserve Program General Sign-Up

AMES, IOWA, July 22, 2013 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will accept 1.7 million acres offered under the 45th Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up. The Department received nearly 28,000 offers on more than 1.9 million acres of land, demonstrating CRP's continuing appeal as one of our nation's most successful voluntary programs for soil, water, and wildlife conservation. Under Vilsack's leadership, USDA has enrolled nearly 12 million acres in new CRP contracts since 2009. Currently, there are more than 26.9 million acres enrolled on 700,000 contracts. More. 

Update 7/17/13  Farm Bill Passes House


A “split” farm bill passed the House today, 216-208.  It is a smaller bill than one that was considered by the House last month because it splits off nutrition assistance -- which makes up 80 percent of the bill's spending -- from the legislation in a bid to get it passed and to conference it with the Senate.  The bill includes only the farm portion of the farm bill -- commodity subsidies, rural development programs, and conservation and energy initiatives -- and would reduce direct spending by $12.8 billion over the next decade compared with current funding levels.


The bill is substantially less expensive than the $939 billion full farm bill that the House considered last month but failed to pass in a 195-234 vote. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this bill would decrease farm commodity subsidies by $18.7 billion over the next 10 years but would boost federal assistance for farmers to purchase crop insurance by nearly $9 billion over that same time period.  It would also consolidate conservation programs, strip mandatory funding for rural energy and organic programs, and limit U.S. EPA's ability to regulate farm operations.  Conservation programs would face a $4.8 billion decrease over the next decade, while federal programs to assist rural landowners with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects would receive no funding.  The Senate passed a farm bill, which includes all of the traditional legislative components including nutrition assistance, earlier this year.  House agriculture leaders will now attempt to use the measure to negotiate in a conference committee with the Senate, which passed a full, $955 billion farm bill in June in a bipartisan vote.  See the complete H.R. 1947 "The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013." 

Farm Bill Updates from the House Committee on Agriculture 

Update 7/17/13 Call For Action Launched on Tax Reform  


NAR is asking its members to let their senators know that real estate tax provisions are critical to the economy and should remain high on lawmakers' priority list as they take a blank slate approach to tax reform. NAR's Call for Action is emphasizing the need for any tax legislation to do no harm to the economy by retaining the deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes, the capital gains exclusion on proceeds from the sale of a principal residence, and extension of mortgage cancellation relief. Also emphasized are deprecation rules and the continued tax-deferred treatment of 1031 exchanges. Under the blank-slate approach to tax reform announced by the leadership of the Senate Finance Committee recently, senators are asked to start from scratch and identify the  provisions they want to keep in the Tax Code.   See information and  a short video in which NAR Government Affairs staffers talk about the CFA and the blank-slate approach. 


One may take action at the REALTOR® Action Center.  We have a voice.


Update 6/25/13 Supreme Court backs landowner in Fla. wetlands case, opens door to more permit scrutiny


The Supreme Court sided today with a Florida landowner who challenged terms for a state-issued permit for developing wetlands, establishing a significantly stricter standard for conditions regulators place on permit applications. The 5-4 decision in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District is a major win for property rights activists who have long claimed the government has too much control over landowners in the permitting process. Advocates contend landowners deserve greater protections under the Fifth Amendment's "takings clause," which states that no private property may be taken for public use "without just compensation."  NAR helped develop and sign on to an Amicus Brief supporting Koontz.


Koontz, of Orange County, Fla., sought to develop 3.7 acres in the early 1990s that the St. Johns River Water Management District classified as a habitat protection zone. He applied for two permits for his 14.9 acres, the majority of which was in the habitat protection zone. Under his proposal, 3.4 acres of wetlands would have been destroyed, along with 0.3 acre of protected uplands. He then offered to place his remaining 11 acres into a conservation easement in return for the permit. But state regulators asked him to do more, including reducing the size of the proposed development to 1 acre. Alternatively, the water district also said Koontz could move forward with his development as long as he hired contractors to make improvements to district-owned wetlands miles away. Koontz refused either of the terms, and his permit application was denied.


Writing for the majority, Justice Alito stated: "It makes no difference that no property was actually taken in this case," Alito wrote. "Extortionate demands for property in the land-use permitting context run afoul of the Takings Clause not because they take property but because they impermissibly burden the right not to have property taken without just compensation."

Click here for the ruling.

Update 6/21/13 House Rejects Farm Bill 

The U.S. House of Representatives, in a 195-234 vote, defeated H.R. 1947, the painstakingly crafted House version of the Farm Bill. The Senate passed their version a few weeks earlier.

In all, 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats voted for the measure. Sixty-two Republicans voted against it, while 172 Democrats cast "no" votes. Both Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) voted for the measure, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) voted against it. The bill, which has been on the House floor this whole week, would have provided $939 billion over the next decade to farm subsidy, conservation, rural energy and nutrition programs. It had no mandatory funding for rural energy programs and would have cut nearly $7 billion from conservation programs.

Its proposed $20.5 billion cut to the national food stamps program saw strong opposition from Democrats, but leaders believed they had enough support to bring the bill to the floor.

What happens next is anyone's guess. The current Farm Bill is expires on September 30 of this year, if Congress is unable to reauthorize the Act or pass a temporary extension.  Congressional leaders are currently discussing options and strategies for a way to move forward.

Update 6/17/13 Update on Flood Insurance Rate Increases 

With NAR’s support an amendment has been attached to the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill to delay removal of “grandfathered” flood insurance rates for one year. 

Update 6/17/13 The REALTORS® Land Institute has a voice in Washington. Check out these updates that are of importance to land professionals: 

The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013

The Senate approved a sweeping new farm bill on Monday that will cost nearly $955 billion over the next 10 years, the first step in a renewed attempt at passing legislation that will set the country’s food and agriculture programs and policy.

The bill, which finances programs as diverse as crop insurance for farmers, food assistance for low-income families and foreign food aid, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 66 to 27. The Senate passed a similar bill last year, but the House failed to bring its bill to a vote. The last farm bill that was passed by both chambers, in 2008, was extended until Sept. 30.

The Senate’s bipartisan 2013 Farm Bill represents the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades.  With the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, the era of direct payments is over. Instead of subsidies that pay out every year even in good times, the bill creates risk management tools that support farmers when they are negatively impacted by weather disaster or market events beyond their control. By ending unnecessary subsidies, streamlining and consolidating programs and cracking down on abuse, the bill reduces the deficit by billions.  Passing the Farm Bill will yield a total of $23 billion in cuts to agriculture programs (including cuts made due to the sequester). $23 billion is over double the amount the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission ($10 billion) and Gang of Six ($11 billion) recommended in total agriculture cuts.

Agriculture is a bright spot in America’s economy. The Senate’s 2013 Farm Bill strengthens top priorities that help farmers, ranchers and small business owners create jobs. The current Farm Bill expires September 30th.  A new Farm Bill must be passed this year to provide farmers the certainty they need to keep driving our economic recovery.

Sixteen million jobs hang in the balance. Last year’s similar Senate Farm Bill passed the Senate with a wide bipartisan vote, 64-35.  The Farm Bill is broadly supported by Democrats and Republicans across the country for its major reforms, common sense deficit reduction and strengthened job creation initiatives.


Major Reform: Ending Direct Payments; Creating Responsible Risk Management

Farmers face unique risks unlike other businesses. Weather and market conditions outside a producer’s control can have devastating effects. Responsible risk management tools help ensure that farmers – and farm jobs – are not wiped out by disasters, and protect all American families from sudden spikes in food prices.

However, for too long farm programs have existed as subsidies that provide payments even when farmers are already doing well. The 2013 Senate Farm Bill reforms farm programs to save taxpayer dollars, while providing farmers with a responsible risk management system that only helps farmers when they experience substantial losses due to events beyond their control.  This proposal:

  • Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer receive payments when prices are rising and support is not needed. Ending these subsidies and creating responsible risk management is a major shift in American farm policy
  • Caps remaining risk management support at $50,000 per person
  • Ends Farm Payments to Non-Farmers. This bill closes the “management loophole,” through which people who were not actually farming—in many cases not even setting foot on the farm—were designated as farm “managers” so they could receive farm payments
  • Requires conservation compliance for crop insurance, which will protect both the farm safety net and the natural resources that our nation’s farmers and ranchers will need for generations to come
    • Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by bad weather
    • Includes disaster relief for producers hurt by drought, spring freeze, and other weather disasters
    • Reforming farm programs, ending direct payments and implementing market-oriented programs to help farmers manage risk saves $16 billion dollars ($12 billion in the bill, $4 billion through sequestration)

Consolidating and Streamlining Programs

By eliminating duplicative programs, funds are concentrated in the areas in which they will have the greatest impact, reducing the deficit while strengthening top priorities.  The Senate Farm Bill eliminates over 100 programs and authorizations under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction.  For example:

  • The bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs—while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife
  • Streamlining programs provides added flexibility and focuses conservation around four primary functions: working lands conservation, the Conservation Reserve Program, regional partnerships, and easements to help prevent sprawl and protect wetlands
  • These reforms save money while still increasing resources for top priorities
  • Because we are truly doing more with less, changes to conservation policies are supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states


Improving Program Accountability 

At a time when many out-of-work Americans are in need of food assistance for the first time in their lives, it is more critical than ever that every dollar go to families in need. By closing loopholes, cracking down on abuse and improving program integrity, the Farm Bill reduces the deficit without cutting standard benefits or removing any needy family from the program.  The Senate Farm Bill increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by: 

  • Stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance
  • Preventing states from providing $1 per year in home heating assistance to individuals who do not have a heating bill for the sole purpose of providing extra benefits above what they would normally receive
  • Ending misuse by college students whose families are not truly low-income
  • Cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking
  • Increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from accepting food assistance benefits
  • The above savings reduce the deficit while continuing support for food banks, seniors’ food programs and healthy school lunch initiatives

Continuing Growth in America’s Diverse Agricultural Economy

The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act increases efficiency and accountability, saving tens of billions of dollars overall, while still strengthening agricultural jobs initiatives through:

  • Export opportunities to help farmers find new global markets for their goods
  • Help for family farmers to sell locally, increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based organizations
  • Training and access to capital to make it easier for beginning farmers to get off the ground
  • Initiatives to help American veterans start agriculture businesses
  • Growth in bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) to create rural agriculture and urban manufacturing jobs
  • Innovation in bio-energy production, supporting non-food based advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and woody biomass power
  • Research to promote the commercialization of new agricultural innovations
  • Rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure, extend broadband internet availability and create a better environment for small businesses

Update 6/05/13 Vilsack Outlines Vision for Agricultural Solutions to Environmental Challenges

Washington, June 5, 2013 - Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack outlines vision for agricultural solutions to environmental challenges. Regional climate hubs, new research tools, and uniform policy guidelines will help agricultural producers mitigate threats and adapt to modern climate challenges.

Update 5/23/13 Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Re-authorization Act of 2013


Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) today introduced the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2013(TRIPRA).  The legislation extends the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) for ten years. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many insurance companies excluded terrorism events from their insurance policies, after sustaining more than $40 billion in losses.  As a result, Congress passed TRIA in 2002.  The law created a federal backstop to make terrorism insurance available and to protect against terrorism related losses in the event of another attack.  The measure has twice been extended and is set to expire in 2014.


TRIA currently provides the following:


  • Requires companies to offer terrorism coverage to commercial policyholders;
  • Requires the private insurance industry to cover losses up to $100 million, only after that point the federal government would provide assistance;
  • Establishes a mechanism for the government to recover funds that are paid out.


“Unfortunately, most of us have always realized that another terrorist attack could happen, destroying lives and disrupting daily activities.  After the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, we are again witness to the devastation and the sorrow that such horrific acts cause,” stated Congressman Capuano, who has introduced TRIA extensions twice since the program’s 2002 creation.


“The threat of a terrorist attack is all too real.  Supporting a long-term TRIA reauthorization provides needed market stability and ensures economic development in a dangerous world,” stated Rep. King.   


Since its enactment, TRIA has ensured the availability of affordable terrorism risk insurance in the marketplace and thereby fostered continued urban development and real estate development in the United States.  To date, TRIA has cost taxpayers nothing outside of minor administrative costs.  This legislation will extend TRIA for 10 years with current co-payments and deductibles for conventional terrorism acts.


The following House Members have signed on as original co-sponsors: Representatives Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Denny Heck (D-WA), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mel Watt (D-NC), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), Charlie Rangel (D-NY), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Bill Keating (D-MA), William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Andre Carson (D-IN), Stephen Lynch (D-MA) and Grace Meng (D-NY).


Five Year Extension Bill


Today’s new legislation follows the introduction of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 Reauthorization Act of 2013 (HR 508), which was introduced in February by Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R-NY).  This bill now has 30 bipartisan co-sponsors.


We continue to work to build consensus among policymakers on moving extension legislation forward in both chambers before the sunset of the current program at the end of 2014.


Update 5/23/13 Amendment Prohibiting Waters of the U.S. Guidance Receives Vote in Senate


A proposed legislative amendment to bar EPA from finalizing its controversial guidance on the reach of the Clean Water Act (CWA) won majority support in the Senate, including from eight Democrats, though it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary for passage -- a signal that the guide still faces opposition in Congress as EPA weighs whether to issue it prior to completing a related rule.  S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), authorizing Army Corps of Engineers water projects, passed the Senate May 15 by an 83-14 vote, without the CWA jurisdiction amendment.


The amendment, proposed by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), would have forbidden EPA from using the proposed guidance, "or any substantially similar guidance, as the basis for any decision regarding the scope" of the CWA, or any rulemaking effort. Fifty-two senators voted for the measure, including Democrats Mark Begich (AK), Joe Donnelly (IN), Mary Landrieu (LA), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Kay Hagan (NC), Claire McCaskill (MO), Mark Pryor (AR) and Joe Manchin (WV).


EPA together with the Corps proposed a guidance in 2011 that would allow regulators to use an approach that generally expands CWA jurisdiction.  A final version of the guidance has yet to emerge from review at the White House Office of Management and Budget that began in February 2012. Since review began, opponents have repeatedly called for EPA not to finalize the guide, and to replace it with a binding rulemaking enforcing a narrower interpretation of CWA authority.


Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, confirmed during a Feb. 27 hearing of the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee that the administration is "working on drafting a rulemaking for the definition of 'waters of the U.S.'"


NAR and RLI opposed the guidance document when it was first released and commented that “…….only Congress can make fundamental statutory changes to the Clean Water Act.”


Sen. Barrasso Introduces Bill That Would Block Guidance


Immediately after the amendment blocking the waters of the U.S. guidance failed in the Senate, Sen. Barrasso (R-WY) refiled legislation that would prohibit it from being finalized.


Many lawmakers see the so-called Clean Water Act guidance as a federal government overreach because it would increase the number of waters, streams and wetlands under the jurisdiction of the 1972 law. The guidance has been stalled at the White House Office of Management and Budget for more than a year; administration officials have indicated they are preparing for a rulemaking and are weighing whether to issue the guidance in the interim.


The bill (S. 1006) would not only prevent the administration from finalizing the current guidance but also would forbid the use of the current guidance or any similar guidance from use in decisions about the scope of the Clean Water Act.


Update 5/23/13 U.S. Chamber of Commerce Releases "Sue and Settle" Report


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently a report on the controversial process of “sue and settle”:  Sue and Settle: Regulating Behind Closed Doors (click here to download report).  


The “sue and settle” process, where environmental advocacy groups sue federal agencies to issue regulations by a specific deadline, is being abused, resulting in interested parties being shut out of regulatory decisions by key federal agencies, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The report is a comprehensive list of sue and settle cases and their regulatory and financial impact. 


Key findings of the study:


  • The sue and settle process is increasingly being used as a technique to shape agencies' regulatory agendas, without input from the public or the regulated community.
  • The Obama administration has entered into more than 70 sue and settle agreements which have lead to the issuance of at least 100 regulations.
  • The Sierra Club as responsible for 34 of the 71 lawsuits, with WildEarth Guardians coming in second with 20 suits.
  • In fiscal year 2011, Congress appropriated $20.9 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for “endangered species listing and critical habitat designation.”  That year, the agency spent $15.8 million in response to court orders or settlement agreements.





Along with our report, the Chamber has launched a sue and settle website (www.sueandsettle.com) which provides the business community, lawmakers, and the public access to a database of cases.  



Update 5/10/13 Federal Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) Act of 2013 

On May 10, the Agriculture Committee of the House of Representatives submitted a draft of the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) Act of 2013.

  • Nearly $40 billion in mandatory funds are cut from farm bill spending, including the immediate 10-year sequestration of $6 billion.
  • After a series of 11 audit hearings, the committee eliminated or consolidated over 100 programs.
  • Direct payments that went to farmers regardless of market conditions were eliminated.
  • A new Title I safety net offers farmers a choice in how best to manage risk while also reforming the outdated notion of paying farmers even if they no longer farm.
  • Conservation programs have been consolidated from 23 programs to 13 programs in an effort to streamline these very valuable conservation tools.
  • Several regulatory relief measures are included to help mitigate some of the most onerous regulatory pressures plaguing our nation’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

Update 5/1/13 Interior to decide fate of 10 species by 2018 under agreement with CBD

The Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to decide in the next five years whether to list 10 new species under the Endangered Species Act, including a rare Pacific Northwest mammal, an Arizona orchid and four species of springsnails.  The settlement announced late last week with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) requires the agency to issue listing determinations on each of the species by  2018 -- decisions that could affect high-profile projects including a copper mine in Arizona and a water pipeline in Nevada. 

The settlement follows a much larger pact CBD and WildEarth Guardians reached with FWS in 2011 that required the agency to issue final listing decisions on more than 250 candidate species and initial decisions on hundreds more.  Under that settlement, CBD agreed to limit deadline lawsuits -- which target the agency's ability to comply with the ESA's decision time frame -- to 10 species per year. The species in this latest settlement represent the group's quota for fiscal 2012.

By the end of the year, FWS will issue a decision on the Coleman's coralroot, which grows in the Dragoon Mountains southeast of Tucson and in the Santa Rita Mountains, site of Rosemont Copper Co.'s planned open-pit mine.  A listing determination will also be made for the Humboldt marten, a rare weasel-like creature long believed to have been extinct until one was captured on a motion-detection camera 15 years ago in a Northern California forest.  


Update 4/23/13  Senators Urge EPA to Drop Waters Guidance


Thirty Republican senators are pressing the Obama administration to scrap its controversial guidance for clarifying convoluted oversight of wetlands and other water resources as U.S. EPA prepares to take up a rulemaking on the issue.


The Clean Water Act guidance, which would increase the number of waters, streams and wetlands under the jurisdiction of the 1972 law, has been stalled at the White House Office of Management and Budget for more than a year. The administration has indicated that it is currently weighing whether to issue interim guidance as it proceeds with the rulemaking -- a process that could last for much of the rest of the Obama administration -- or drop the guidance altogether.


Republican senators, including David Vitter (R-La.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) yesterday pressed the administration to take the latter course.  In a letter to acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe, the Senators suggest the guidance could be struck down in the courts. They pointed to a handful of recent cases in which courts have found EPA actions on water pollution to be beyond the agency's authority.  The letter recommends that the EPA withdraw the proposed guidance and proceed with a formal rulemaking process that should not attempt to expand its statutory authority beyond that intended by Congress. The final rule should reflect the principles promulgated in recent case law and identify limits on the agency’s jurisdiction under the CWA.


Visit: http://www.eenews.net/assets/2013/04/24/document_daily_02.pdf


Update 4/2/13 Even though Congress is away on its “spring break” recess, there are still several issues percolating that could impact land professionals – these are just a few:

EPA stymied in its effort to control all waters

The Obama administration is considering scrapping work on a guidance for clarifying muddled oversight of wetlands and other water resources and moving straight to a rulemaking, the Army Corps of Engineers said recently.  EPA released draft guidance in 2011 to clarify how its current rules should be applied in the wake of the court decisions and said then that this was an interim step while it worked toward a formal rulemaking.  Some experts believe this draft guidance would significantly expand the scope of the EPA and Corps’ jurisdiction over U.S. waters   But as election-year politics ramped up and a coalition of regulated stakeholders, including RLI, expressed concerns,  the guidance stalled at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last year.   In addition, legislation to defund this regulatory effort should be introduced later in the spring.

Farm Bill reauthorization efforts, Section 1619 reform on slow track

The Farm Bill is the funding vehicle for agriculture subsidies, rural conservation programs, energy and biofuel initiatives, and the food stamp program. While the Senate passed its version last year, the House version languished for months on the floor as GOP leadership refused to bring it to a vote, citing disagreement over the bill's $16 billion cut to food stamps. Lawmakers instead approved an extension of the program through September, 2013 in the New Year's Day "fiscal cliff" deal.  Of particular interest is Section 1619, which prohibits access to certain kinds of farm data that is required for accurate farm appraisals and property valuations.  High-level hearings and discussions have begun on all of these issues and RLI leadership will have meetings with key congressional staff in May to express our concerns regarding all of these areas

Drones to be certified for commercial purposes by 2015

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) can be helpful for marketing property.  However, right now, only military, law enforcement, research and hobbyists are permitted to fly these systems. Using UASs for any commercial purpose, such as developing a marketing video to sell a property, is not permitted.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been tasked by Congress to develop rules and procedures to integrate these machines safely into the nation’s airspace.   The FAA’s primary concerns during this process include (1) Safety – making sure these systems are operated in a manner that does not harm anything else in the airspace; (2) National Security – making sure these machines are controlled and regulated so that they cannot be weaponized; and  (3) Privacy – making sure concerns related to privacy are addressed.   The regulations should be finalized by 2015, and RLI will make sure member interests are represented during the regulatory comment process.  


Update 3/12/13  Obama admin shifts to rule making as guidance stalls at OMB -- Army Corps chief 


The Obama administration is considering scrapping work on a guidance for clarifying muddled oversight of wetlands and other water resources and moving straight to a rulemaking, the Army Corps of Engineers chief told lawmakers at a hearing on Feb. 27.

Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, acknowledged the shift in response to a question at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing about the fate of the so-called Clean Water Act guidance, which has been stalled at the White House Office of Management and Budget for more than a year.

While the guidance is at OMB, Darcy said, "we are working on drafting a rulemaking for the definition of waters of the U.S., and we are working within the administration to make a determination as to whether we will go forward with the guidance and a rulemaking, or just a rulemaking, and that determination has not been made yet."

Regulators and industry have found themselves in a legal quagmire for six years in the wake of two confusing Supreme Court decisions that raise questions about the regulation of isolated wetlands under the 1972 Clean Water Act. EPA released draft guidance in 2011 to clarify how its current rules should be applied in the wake of the court decisions and said then that this was an interim step while it worked toward a formal rulemaking. But as election-year politics ramped up, the guidance stalled at OMB last year. Environmental groups and industry support a rulemaking, but environmentalists want the guidance finalized in the meantime.


2/13/13  Visit agriculture.house.gov and agriculture.senate.gov for up to date and relevant news on the Farm Bill, including how it will impact farming across the country.  


Update 2/07/13 Businesswoman Nominated to be Secretary of Interior

President Obama has nominated Sally Jewell, the CEO of the large outdoor products company Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), to be the next Secretary of Interior. A former banker and oil company executive, Jewell has been the CEO of REI for over five years. The Secretary of the Interior oversees a department vital to the country’s economic recovery and is tasked with the protection and preservation of America’s natural resources, cultural and tribal communities, energy development and public lands. Balancing all of these needs will require a candidate with a proven background in public lands, success in the business world and a firm commitment to citizen engagement. Jewell, if confirmed, will inherit a series of thorny political and policy battles. For instance, Interior is crafting rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing – the controversial oil-and-gas development method – on federal lands. The Department is also in the midst of evaluating nearly 250 species for inclusion on the list of endangered species Read more from bloomberg.com.


Update 1/15/13  Justices Hear Oral Arguments in Property Rights Case 

On January 15, The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District. This case addresses a Florida landowner's claim that he is owed compensation by a land-use agency after it declined to issue permits for a wetlands area he wanted to develop because he wouldn't agree to certain conditions. The case raises major questions about the right of government to impose conditions in return for permit approval. It hinges in part on whether Supreme Court precedents limiting the ability of government entities to place conditions on landowners in exchange for permits applies to "money, services, labor or any other type of personal property." The court is also weighing whether a constitutional violation occurs even when no permit is actually issued. It is not clear how the court will rule, although the decision could rest on whether a majority of justices conclude that a taking, subject to compensation under the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment, even occurred.

NAR signed on to an Amicus Brief with several other regulated stakeholder groups. The focus of the Amicus Brief was to further elaborate on the property rights implications of the case and describe how real estate development and related activities are adversely affected by these types of situations. A decision in the case is expected in the Spring.


Update 1/02/13 NAR Issue Brief Real Estate Provisions in “Fiscal Cliff” Bill


Update 12/04/12  Possible Lawsuit Against the Center for Biological Diversity

NAR has joined with several other real estate sector organizations to develop an amicus brief in an important Supreme Court case related to takings and property rights.  In Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District, a local government in Florida placed overly burdensome requirements on a property owner who wanted to develop his property.  The property owner refused to meet these requirements, so the local government denied his application to develop the property.  The focus of the Amicus Brief is to demonstrate that the onerous conditions of the permit were out of proportion to the property that was being developed.  This resulted in a clear case of uncompensated regulatory takings and thus was a violation of the 5th Amendment.  The Court will hear the case in late 2012, with a decision expected sometime in early 2013.  


Update 12/04/12  Koontz Supreme Court Case

NAR, along with several other regulated stakeholders, stands ready to intervene when the  Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) sues the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to stop the operation of nationwide permit (NWP) program for wetlands. The NWP program allows many activities throughout various industries, such as pipeline and utility line activities, real estate development, mining and agriculture, and streamlines permitting of projects that have minimal environmental impacts.  If the NWP program is stopped, this will result in project delays, higher costs, and increased uncertainty. Longer permitting times will increase the overall cost of housing. NAR will be at the table if the CBD decides to move forward with their lawsuit, or if they decide to negotiate a settlement with the Corps.  

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