All posts by Bryan Pickens


Texas Cattle Update

As reported by the Texas Farm Bureau via Drovers Cattle Network, the January cattle inventory survey said that the U.S. herd has grown for the second consecutive year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the country started 2016 with 92 million cattle and calves, up 3.2% from a year earlier and the most cattle at the start of a year since 2011. The 3.2% increase is the biggest annual inventory increase since 1974. USDA lowered their estimate of the January 2015 cattle inventory by 657,000 head.

While the nationwide increase was a positive for the industry, ranchers and dairymen in eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle are still reeling from the early January winter storm Goliath that caused the deaths of tens of thousands of cattle. Dairy and beef cattle deaths totaled around 19,000 in Texas alone. The dairy and beef cattle industry continue to recover from the deadly winter storm, and industry experts are expected to know the nationwide impact from the losses in the coming days.


Gridlocked: The Texas Water Grid Debate

Facing a charge to study the merits of Texas water markets and a statewide water grid to facilitate them, members Texas House Committee on Natural Resources found that parties on all sides of the sensitive issue remain divided.

Of the nine interim charges handed down to the committee by House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), eight of them revolve around the precious and coveted resource that is water. As the Committee met in early February, the traditional urban/rural dividing lines were once again present, with many rural communities teaming up with environmental groups in hopes of fighting off what is perceived as a raid on their valuable asset.

While there has been recent legislative movement to focus on the state’s water needs, the Austin American-Statesman’s Asher Price noted that a proposal to at least study the issue was killed in the last legislative session, again the victim of the urban/rural standoff. For years the state has been fissured by dispute between the water haves and have-nots, with an alphabet soup of river authorities, groundwater districts and state agencies grappling with how to meet the needs of growing cities, explained Price. While the divide still remains, the committee hearing and the discussion on water markets were tangible steps toward addressing the issue for all Texans.

In theory, water markets may be established as an appropriate means to distribute the scarce resource in areas where there is increased demand. Water trading markets also aim to “drought-proof” a region from periods of long sustained drought. Perhaps the most successful real-world application of a water market has been in Australia, where trading water like other commodities and placing real value on the resource has created a true economic incentive to conserve it.

In Texas, where the population has surged by over 1.8 million people since the last census in 2010, the growing demand for water has not been lost on legislative leaders. As the Committee chair Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) noted at the hearing: “With our sustained population growth that we’re blessed with … there has to be infrastructure there to deal with [this issue].”

Some of the debate at the hearing revolved around how the infrastructure might best be set up in order to serve the varying regional needs of such a large state. Representative Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) stated the importance of connecting all Texas towns, both large and small—to the grid, so they would never have face the possibility of running out of water.

On the other hand, Ken Kramer of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, testified about his suspicions on why the legislature would consider a massive, centralized water grid. Kramer supposed that the electric-power industry would be very interested in the grid due to the need for great amounts of power to pump water from sea level to the High Plains. While Kramer and others did testify that water markets should be studied in Texas, he also advocated the importance of conservation, and noted the conservation efforts of cities like El Paso and San Antonio.

With many questions yet unanswered, and the lingering sense of another battle brewing between rural communities that have the resource and growing urban communities that are ever thirsty for it, the Committee will spend 2016 studying possible incentives for the different areas, and ways that incentives could benefit the state as a whole.

The Committee will next meet to examine how to supply water while respecting private property rights of individual owners. For future meeting schedules, click here.


Texas General Land Office Winter Beach Cleanup

For nearly three decades, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) has been practicing the mantra “Don’t mess with Texas”, especially along Texas beaches. This year will be no different, as the GLO will continue its Texas Adopt-A-Beach program, with the first cleanup event of 2016 scheduled for February 12 and 13.

According to the GLO, since the program began in 1986, nearly a half million volunteers have cleaned up more than 9,200 tons of trash littering Texas’ Gulf Coast. Due to the tide patterns in the Gulf of Mexico, trash that is dumped anywhere in the gulf is likely to end up on a Texas beach. Cleanup volunteers that collect data on the source and type of debris have found some of the trash can come from as far away as South America.

Besides the environmental impact, the cleanup effort through the Adopt-A-Beach program greatly contributes to the maintenance and growth of the Gulf Coast economy. Coastal tourism is a $7 billion industry and commercial fishing is a $1.9 billion industry, and both rely on healthy beaches to prosper.

In addition to gathering volunteers to join, the GLO is encouraging young Texans to get involved by submitting artwork to the Adopt-A-Beach “Treasures of the Texas Coast” Children’s Art Contest.

“Many young students across Texas have not yet had the opportunity to visit our beautiful coast,” said Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. “This competition encourages kids to learn about the Texas coast and then be creative in demonstrating what impacts them through their art. The coast is an important part of our shared heritage as Texans and this competition promotes a deeper appreciation for this vital resource.”

Ten winners from several different grade levels will be chosen, and have their artwork featured in a 2017 calendar that will be distributed across the state. One grand prizewinner will receive roundtrip airfare and a seven-night cruise.

The Feb. 12 cleanup will be held at Edwin Atwood Park, Access 5 on South Padre Island on February 12th and 7 different locations in the coastal bend on Feb. 13.

For more information on the Adopt-A-Beach program, to sign up as a volunteer, or to learn more about the art contest, visit You may also follow @TXAdoptABeach on Twitter for the latest news.


Planned pipeline clears federal hurdle

Opponents of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, the 143-mile long natural gas pipeline scheduled to be built near Texas’ Big Bend region were delivered a blow this week when federal regulators said they would not delay or block the planned project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an environmental assessment Monday that focused on the 1,093-foot portion of the proposed pipeline that crosses the Rio Grande River and stated that the project “would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”

The 42-inch-wide pipeline will carry liquefied natural gas from central Texas (near Fort Stockton) cutting through 47 miles of Pecos County, 33 miles of Brewster County and 63 miles of Presidio County before crossing beneath the Rio Grande near the town of Presidio. The pipeline could carry up to 1.4 billion cubic feet of gas to Mexico daily.

The opponents of the project include Big Bend area ranchers, environmentalists and landowners. While the ranchers and environmental activists make for unlikely bedfellows, the group shares fears that the pipeline will tarnish what many consider the most beautiful acreage in the Lone Star State, and will bring added risk for wildfires explosions. Others simply fear losing their land via eminent domain. These opponents flooded the FERC with more than 600 letters in the fall of 2015, citing legal, environmental and public safety objections.

Commissioned by the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad, or CFE, Mexico’s state-owned electric utility), the Trans-Pecos Pipeline is part of Mexico’s plan to modernize its energy system. The natural gas provided by the pipe will help many border town residents to stop using coal, wood and heating oil, and instead use the cleaner fuel source.

The two energy companies contracted to manage the project are an international syndicate that include Mexico-based Carso, and Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). Spokespeople for ETP and supporters of the project champion the fact that the pipeline will bring jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue to West Texas.

While the pipeline will carry resources over—or in this case, under—an international border, it is key to note that the FERC will only have oversight of the 1,093-foot stretch of pipeline passing under the Rio Grande. This section is the only section designated as “interstate”. The remaining 143 miles of pipeline will be regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission, as it is designated an “intrastate” pipeline.

The full application for the project is still pending and public comment can be made through February 3, 2016. Should federal regulators follow this week’s recommendations and approve the project, opponents say they plan to challenge the decision in federal court.

To read about the Trans-Pecos pipeline on the project website, click here.

For more on the impact to the local community, click here.

Texas General Land Office Intervenes in BLM Suit; Land Commissioner to Feds: “Don’t Mess with Texas”

For seven North Texas Families along the Red River that continue their fight against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, more help is on the way.

The families got a boost last week when Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush officially filed documents in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas requesting to join in the families’ lawsuit that charges the BLM with perpetuating an “arbitrary seizure” of land along the Texas side of the river.

The BLM claims that the 116-mile stretch along the river is federal land, which the agency says has been under its control since the Louisiana Purchase. Bush views it as a blatant land grab, and argues that the land, more specifically 113 acres in Wilbarger County, and the mineral rights associated with it, belong to the GLO. The Land Commissioner also claims that the tract is part of the Texas Permanent School Fund, the land mechanism designed in 1876 to aid in the financing of the state’s public schools.

The GLO initially owned the rights to about 78 acres along the river in Wilbarger County. Due to the natural, gradual northward movement, the acreage expanded to 113 acres, and it is these additional 35 acres that the federal agency claims as theirs.

While no one has developed the land to mine for minerals, Bush claims that he had no other option but to join the suit and fight against what he calls a dangerous slippery slope that would threaten Texas’ entire oil and gas portfolio.

“Our primary responsibility here at the General Land Office throughout the course of the state’s history is to be the asset manager and the fiduciary for 13 million acres, which provides a large source of revenue to our public school systems K through 12 and secondary education,” Bush said Monday, November 30. “It’s a vital role, and one we take very seriously, and pursuant to the claims the Bureau of Land Management is laying out to not only affect private land ownership in the vicinity of the Red River but also state acreage, we will file a complaint that will lay out in specific detail the state’s acreage, namely mineral rights in the vicinity of the Red River that are subject to potential land taking.”

The dispute over the land boiled over in December of 2013 when BLM representatives arrived in North Texas to discuss their plans for managing the acreage for the next two decades. The federal agency has said its claim stems from a 1923 Supreme Court decision that defined the boundaries of Texas and Oklahoma and assigned some land in between to the feds.

But Texans, like the families who have filed this current suit, have long held deeds and paid property taxes on this land. Moreover, the bureau has not fully surveyed the area, making it unclear where the public and private boundaries lie.

Bush is the latest Texas official to weigh in on the issue, accusing the Bureau of poorly articulating their claim. In August, I wrote about how U.S. Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon) is tackling this issue in Congress, (if you missed it, here’s the story).

To read the GLO’s complaint in intervention, visit here.

To read the GLO’s motion to intervene, visit here.

For a graphic of the location of the land in question, visit here.

Photo by Bill Stipp (

Speaker, Lieutenant Governor release Interim Charges to House, Senate

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) have rolled out numerous interim charges to legislative committees, giving citizens a hint of the potential key issues the legislature will tackle the next time legislators meet in 2017.

“The next legislative session is more than a year away, but the work of that session starts now,” Straus said.

Various Capitol media observers say that the Senate charges aim to tie up loose ends from the 84th session. Among the most important of these charges in the upper chamber for Texas agriculture and landowners are Patrick’s requests to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs.

“The Natural Resources Committee will study the federal mandates being implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the impact they will have on the Texas economy,” Patrick said in the official release. “The committee will also review the competitiveness of Texas’ permitting process and make recommendations on how to maintain our friendly business climate.”

Patrick’s charge to the Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs Committee included this message: “The Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs Committee will continue their critical focus on protecting and increasing the water resources of our state while preserving the water rights of all Texans.”

On the House side, Straus issued more than 150 charges, but stated he chose to focus on three core priorities: supporting private sector growth, creating opportunity through education, and continuing to make government more transparent and accountable.

Between the two chamber leaders’ charges, there was some overlap, including the requests for legislators to study oil field theft, eminent domain, and groundwater issues, as well as Texas’ property tax appraisal system.

Tara Trower Doolittle of the Austin-American Statesman notes that the ability to set the interim charges is perhaps one of the most powerful tools that chamber leaders have at their disposal. The charges not only set the groundwork for the most developed and comprehensive proposals of the next legislative session, but they also dictate, by default, what lens will be used for creating policy. The laws the governor will sign in 2017 will be based in no small part on the parade of charges laid out this month.

To view the entire list of interim charges to the House, click here.

To view the Senate interim charges, click here. Charges are listed on home page.

Gulf Coast

As Storm Season nears end, Texans look to future of storm, erosion protection

As Texans along the Gulf Coast count down to the end of what has been a relatively quiet hurricane and tropical storm season in 2015, leaders remain diligent about addressing one of the biggest issues caused by these storms: coastal erosion.

Besides the actual loss of land suffered by the Lone Star State, coastal erosion can have other harmful effects, including the loss of natural resources, threats to coastal developments and the possibility of damage to public infrastructure and refineries.

Texas has one of the highest rates of coastal erosion in the country, losing, on average, 235 acres of gulf shoreline each year. Approximately 234 miles, or 64 percent of Texas’ 367-mile coast is critically eroding, with the highest rate of erosion recoded on Matagorda Island at 46.2 feet per year. On average, the Texas Coast is eroding 4 feet per year.

In various reports over the past decade, the Texas General Land Office has said that the greatest cause of periodic coastal erosion is the effect of storms and hurricanes. With storm season officially ending on November 30, only one named storm—Tropical Storm Bill—has reached the Texas Coast. Bill made landfall on June 16 on Matagorda Island, and produced heavy rains from the central Texas Coast northward across eastern Texas, western Louisiana and southeastern Oklahoma. Many locations reported more than 10 inches of rainfall, and Ganado, Texas saw nearly 14 inches.

To stem the tide, the Texas Legislature in 1999 enacted the Coastal Erosion Planning & Response Act (CEPRA), with the goal of studying and reducing the effects of coastal erosion, and tasked the Texas General Land Office with the management of the program. Through collaboration and a matching funds partnership with local, state and federal governments, as well as private non-profit organizations, the GLO has developed numerous beach nourishment, shoreline stabilization and habitat restoration projects. Because of these efforts, the most recent CEPRA report to the 84th legislature found that Texas received $3.40 in economic and financial benefit for every dollar of state funding invested in these projects.

The most recent development in these partnerships came in late August of this year when the GLO, under the direction of Land Commissioner George P. Bush, came to an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop the Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Feasibility Study. According to the GLO, the study will investigate the feasibility of projects for flood reduction, hurricane and storm damage mitigation and ecosystem restoration along the entire Texas coast. The goal of the agreement is to formulate a plan to better protect the 7.1 million Texans along the Gulf Coast, and expedite recovery after a tropical storm or hurricane.

Commissioner Bush also noted the importance of protecting Texas’ energy production along the coast, as Texas hosts more than one-quarter of the nation’s total refining capacity.

“The Texas Coast powers the nation,” Bush said in a statement. “Its vulnerability should be considered a national security issue. By working together as a region—combining and coordinating local, state and federal resources—we will directly address ongoing threats to the Texas coast for future generations.”

For more information on the Texas Coast, visit Texas A&M’s Institute for Sustainable Coastal Communities “Coastal Communities Planning Atlas”, the most comprehensive online, interactive database ever compiled about the Texas Coast by clicking here.


Thirty years later, farmer regains land from BLM

Three decades after losing 94 acres of property that had been in his family since the Civil War in a dispute with the Bureau of Land Management, Clay County farmer Tommy Henderson regained his acreage, and many landowners along the Red River have taken note.

Henderson’s property is a small portion of the long-disputed 30,000 acres that span 116 miles along the Texas/Oklahoma border. Federal officials claim that the land has been under federal control since the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Landowners, however, say that the feds have only surveyed around 6,500 acres, and used methods that differ greatly from the accepted gradient boundaries survey method established by the Supreme Court in the 1920s. In addition, landowners along the stretch hold deeds to and continue to pay taxes on the land they and their families have worked for generations.

For Henderson, the boundary dispute that had dragged on since 1984 came to a favorable end in early August after he had worked with the Texas Farm Bureau, Clay County officials, representatives from the BLM and U.S. Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon). At the Clay County Courthouse, Henderson signed a federal patent for the land, actually purchasing the land for $1 per acre under a “Color of Title” stipulation that enables landowners the chance to purchase after showing a clear title, payment of taxes, improvements and “good faith” possession. Henderson was encouraged after the diligent struggle, claiming that his case will help his neighboring landowners.

“This blazes the trail,” he said. “I hope it will help remove a cloud that’s been over these titles.”

Congressman Thornberry was also satisfied and encouraged by the event.

“It is good that Mr. Henderson was finally able to get back a portion of his land that he lost in the 1980s, but it never should have happened in the first place,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry, who represents the 13th Congressional District of Texas that stretches from the Panhandle to the outskirts of the DFW Metroplex and spans the Texas side of the Red River, has strongly come down on the side of Texas landowners in their struggle with the BLM. He said he plans to continue to pursue legislation he and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) filed to help protect these citizens and the land they hold dear.

“I am continuing to pursue legislation that I introduced with Sen. John Cornyn to protect private property rights and clear up the uncertainty that many landowners along the Red River currently face,” Thornberry said in a released statement.

The legislation, known as the Red River Private Property Protection Act, has been adjusted from the original bill filed during the last session of Congress following several town halls along the river and input from landowners. Officially known as H.R. 2130 in the U.S. House and S. 1153 in the U.S. Senate, the legislation aims to protect private property rights along the Red River from federal ownership claims. By providing legal certainty to landowners, the Act also seeks to end questions about the federal government’s ownership of other disputed land along the Red River. Landowners are applauding their local congressman’s efforts thus far.

“Mac did a good job about contacting everybody because it is going to take landowners participating in this process to make this work,” said Jimmy Smith, another landowner along the river who finds himself in a similar situation to Henderson. “If Mac can get this passed and get this through and surveyed by a private surveyor like he was talking about and they can get it done it, would alleviate the BLM from being in our backyards,” said Smith.

To follow the legislation as it works through the 113th U.S. Congress, click here.

Texans push back against federal overreach in challenging WOTUS ruling


A host of organizations, including the Texas Farm Bureau, recently challenged a ruling that would expand the scope of influence of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ control of the “waters of the U.S.” in a federal district court in Galveston.

The parties contend that the ruling grants the EPA and the Corps broad control of farmland use, and goes beyond what Congress intended in the Clean Water Act. The finalized WOTUS rule was published in the Federal Register at the end of June and is set to take effect on August 28.

“This is an astonishing overreach of federal regulatory power,” TFB President Russell Boening said. “It’s clear Congress never intended EPA’s regulatory power to extend beyond truly navigable waters.”

The EPA claims that the ruling was made in an effort to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, and that these worries were nonsensical. But while many legal teams are racing to figure out the actual impact of the ruling on their respective industry, outside observers see the issue at the heart of the concern.

“No land or water is beyond the reach of the federal government, never mind the traditional understanding of private property or state and local control of land use,” former U.S. Representative Larry Combest (R-Texas) said in a statement. “Farmers, ranchers, dairymen, and others, on and off the farm, are in a widespread panic with the finalization of this rule because not only does it allow the EPA onto their land, but it throws the gate wide open to environmental group-led citizen lawsuits that promise to carry the rule’s reach beyond what even the EPA had envisioned.”

Texas farmers are not the only ones at odds with the ruling. Nationally, 27 states have filed comparable suits against the EPA. The Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi lawsuit label the WOTUS rule “an unconstitutional and impermissible expansion of federal power over the states and their citizens and property owners.”

The Republican-led Congress may have one solution for farmers and other industry leaders. Bills that would kill the WOTUS ruling have already been introduced in each chamber, and the House Bill has already been passed. The Senate Bill has yet to come up for a vote. In addition, there is also a provision in the appropriations bill that would take away the funding for enforcement of the ruling, which some believe to be a likely outcome.

To read the American Farm Bureau’s analysis of the ruling, click here.


Open Carry passes Texas Legislature

With the stroke of a pen by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texans will be allowed to openly carry their handguns. The much-debated piece of legislation was sent to the Governor’s desk after navigating the treacherous waters of the 84th legislature at the end of May.

House Bill 910 by state Representative Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) will allow for licensed gun owners to carry their firearm in an openly displayed hip or shoulder holster. Under current law, license holders are required to conceal their weapon in public, and carry a Concealed Handgun License.

While the majority of other states across the nation allow for some form of legal open carry, the legislation tested the boundaries of lawmakers’ acceptance of “constitutional carry,” the carrying of a firearm without a government permit.

The bill’s journey to the governor’s desk took an unexpected turn when, following six hours of debate on the senate floor, an amendment from Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) and state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) added in language that would have limited the ability of law enforcement officials to question someone solely based on the fact that the person was carrying a handgun. The “Cop-Stop” provision created an unusual alliance between urban Democrats, who said the language would help stop racial profiling, and Tea Party Republicans, who claimed the amendment would help protect citizen’s Fourth Amendment right to unlawful search a seizure of license holders. Opponents of the measure claimed it was an end-around way to eliminate licensing altogether, and an attempt to pass constitutional carry without properly vetting the idea. Other opponents of the amendment, including police associations from across the state, said that it would create additional burden for and endanger the lives of law enforcement officials on a daily basis.

The amendment was later stripped out in a conference committee, and the bill passed both chambers, largely along party lines. Numerous gun rights activists claimed that, without the amendment, the bill did not go far enough to ensure their constitutional rights.

Following its passage from both chambers, Governor Abbott tweeted: “Open Carry just passed in both Texas House & Senate. Next stop: My pen.” With the Governor’s signature, the bill will go into effect January 1, 2016.