Wednesday, January 15, 2014

With the Promise of Drones Comes Legal Questions

Imagine a future where a rancher can use an autonomous drone to fly out to a pasture miles from the homestead to check on his herd. The drone reports back that the herd is accounted for except for one steer that is lying down alone, more than 1,000 feet from the herd, and appears to be sick. The drone sends GPS coordinates to the rancher, who then dispatches a ranch hand to the exact location of the sick animal. The drone’s surveillance ultimately saves the animal’s life.

Now imagine that a similar drone is used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fly over feedlots. The EPA drone spends its flying hours, not looking for sick or stray cattle, but instead looking for Clean Water Act violations. The drone flies over pens, counts cattle to make sure numbers do not exceed permitted amounts and checks for visual evidence of runoff from pens into nearby creeks or streams. If a problem is found, the drone takes pictures for evidence and alerts state or federal officials to come to the feedlot for an inspection.

As is often the case with new technology, beneficial uses are often accompanied by nefarious uses. The promise for drones raises a lot of legal questions about how drones will ultimately be used.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Five Legal Issues to Watch in 2014

What will be the hot topics in ag law for 2014? Here are some predictions for the coming year:

1. Clean Air Act Targets Farmers. Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970 to clean up the nation’s air. The low hanging fruit of air pollution—power plants, industrial factories, trucks and automobiles-- have been under scrutiny ever since. The EPA is looking for ways to further reduce air pollution in the US, and farms will be next. Large grain dryers (producing particulate matter) and anaerobic digesters (producing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane) will be part of this new frontier for the Clean Air Act.