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Ongoing litigation will affect farmers

There is plenty of litigation in the news recently that will affect farmers and agriculturists either directly or indirectly. How this unfolds over the next few months will be very interesting.

On the state level, both North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread and North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem have been vocal in their opposition to the Climate Risk Carbon Initiative. There is a push by California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones to make insurance companies disclose investments in fossil fuel energy production. This affects any insurance company that does business in the state of California, because they would need to tally and then publicly disclose any investments in fossil fuels.

The direct effect of this California initiative is to regulate the energy industry in the United States. California — and Jones — would call for insurance companies to divest investments in the coal industry, because these investments in thermal coal are purportedly at risk of becoming stranded assets. In other words, "disclose your fossil fuel investments because they may be financially unsound."

This overreach by California reeks of hypocrisy, because the initiative doesn't address other possibly unsound investments, including but not limited to solar energy and other green energy investments.

Why should farmers care about this? Because if California can succeed with this kind of reach, then who knows how far they — or the federal government — can go in regulating agricultural related resources, including water. Do recall that much of the Waters of the United States litigation that cropped up over the past couple of years still is running its way through the system?

Eventually, all of this litigation determines the ability of the state and federal governments to regulate all industries, including agriculture.

This past week, Stenehjem joined attorneys general in 13 other states who are threatening to commence litigation to stop the California initiative. In a letter available through online resources (one good resource for this is always sayanythingblog.com) the attorneys general call the initiative "misguided as a matter of policy, questionable as a matter of law, and inconsistent with the principles of comity among the United States." All of this is true, of course, and it likely won't dissuade Jones or California from moving forward with the initiative.

In different news, Stenehjem passed judgment on the legality of Gov. Doug Burgum's vetoes of certain pieces of legislation from the recent North Dakota legislative session. In short, Stenehjem opined that the governor has the power to veto parts in an appropriation bill that are related to a vetoed appropriation, so long as the bill can stand as workable legislation. So some of Burgum's vetoes were upheld, and some were not.

The request for the opinion was made by Sen. Rich Wardner and Rep. Al Carlson, and the opinion basically was an affirmation of the concept of separation of powers at the state government level. Burgum issued a statement expressing pleasure at the attorney general's opinion and the fact that it prevents "the spending of scarce state resources without the benefit of full transparency and the scrutiny of public involvement afforded through full legislative review."

So, then what happened? Well, interestingly enough, the Legislative Management Committee wasn't as thrilled as Burgum's office, because they voted to proceed with litigation against Burgum over the vetoes. This is all preliminary, but the show is fascinating.

Carlson, the House majority leader and one of the requestors of Stenehjem's opinion, stated "We're the only ones who can spend money, and we're the only ones who can pass laws." Wardner, Senate majority leader and the other requestor of the attorney general's opinion, was quoted in sayanythingblog.com as saying "We need to make a statement that the governor was out of bounds on this."

The North Dakota Supreme Court will hear the matter, although the case is far from being put together and filed. The impact of the decision, like the California initiative, will be far reaching. Stay tuned!

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