FarmPolicy

November 15, 2019

Climate Change: Markup Released; Biofuels; Animal Agriculture; Farmland Values; and Peanuts

Climate Change: Markup Released- Overview

Steven Mufson reported in Saturday’s Washington Post that, “The congressional trek toward climate legislation inched forward yesterday as the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a 932-page bill chock-full of allowances and provisions designed to bring together a coalition of lawmakers, industries and environmental groups behind the regulation of greenhouse gases.

“The bill was hailed by a diverse group including some of the country’s biggest utilities and industries, a huge chunk of the environmental movement and leading Democrats, who said that committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) had forged a bill capable of winning support on a politically loaded issue that cuts across both regional and political lines.

“‘This bill marks the dawn of the clean-energy age,’ said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), co-author of the legislation.”

Saturday’s Post article added that, “But many economists and environmentalists criticized the proposed legislation’s complexity, concessions to oil and coal industries, and compromises on targets for renewable energy use and reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Mr. Mufson explained that, “The legislation has several key components. It sets national targets for greenhouse-gas emissions, gradually lowering the overall level. Major emitters of the gases would need permits, which they could buy and sell among one another. But to win broad support, the committee made provisions to give away allowances to utilities, energy-intensive industries and others. Those firms could use the allowances to cover the use of carbon-based fuels or materials, or sell the allowances to other firms and reduce their own carbon dioxide emissions.”

Keith Johnson picked up on this theme and provided this recap of the House bill on Friday at The Environmental Capital Blog (The Wall Street Journal): “The new idea from the House is to hand out a lot more free permits than President Obama wanted; like many economists, he wanted to sell 100% of the permits. The House compromise version, if it were passed, raises the obvious question of just where the administration would get the $646 billion it budgeted for clean-energy investment and tax rebates.”

Wall Street Journal writer Ian Talley reported in Saturday’s paper that, “White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration is reviewing the legislation, but that the current proposal ‘represents a big step forward in dealing with dangerous greenhouse gasses and creating a sustained market for clean-energy jobs.’”

And, Reuters writers Richard Cowan and Timothy Gardner reported on Friday that, “President Barack Obama has made passage of a bill a top priority and wants demonstrable progress by December, in time for a U.N. climate change meeting at which nearly 200 countries plan to form a pact to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

“In an attempt to ensure enough Democrats back the bill to have it win approval next week in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the authors agreed to allow oil refiners and natural gas distributors, among others, to enjoy the free permits, at least until 2026.

Democratic leaders hope to win approval by the full House by August, even with Republican opposition. Prospects in the Senate are less certain.”

Meanwhile, New York Times writer John M. Broder offered an historic perspective on the idea of “cap and trade;” indicating in yesterday’s paper that, “How did cap and trade, hatched as an academic theory in obscure economic journals half a century ago, become the policy of choice in the debate over how to slow the heating of the planet? And how did it come to eclipse the idea of simply slapping a tax on energy consumption that befouls the public square or leaves the nation hostage to foreign oil producers?

The answer is not to be found in the study of economics or environmental science, but in the realm where most policy debates are ultimately settled: politics.”

Along these lines, Stephen Power and Brody Mullins reported on Friday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Business and environmental groups are flooding the airwaves with advertisements targeting a dozen or so Democrats whose votes are seen as crucial on a controversial climate bill.

The outreach is intensifying as House Democratic leaders are gaining confidence that they have the votes needed to move the bill through the House Energy and Commerce Committee as early as next week” [Note: the markup of the bill begins today at 1:00 Eastern].

Michael M. Gleeson and Mike Soraghan reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Heading into a multi-day markup that starts at 1 p.m. Monday, the fate of the bill still rests in the hands of a sizeable group of committee members who haven’t announced their position on the bill.”

Climate Change: Markup Released- Agriculture (Indirect Land Use Link)

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday that, “A chairman’s draft of legislation on climate change released Friday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee spells out no clear role for agriculture in providing carbon offsets for industry.”

Mr. Clayton explained that, “The bill has few mentions of agriculture throughout the legislation with no role mentioned regarding whether agricultural land would be eligible for carbon sequestration.

“People familiar with the situation who spoke to DTN said that doesn’t necessarily mean Waxman sees no role for agriculture, but that Waxman may leave agriculture’s role in the bill to the House Agriculture Committee to add to the legislation. An amendment for agricultural offsets also could come up in Waxman’s full committee debate next week.”

Friday’s DTN article added that, “The House Agriculture Committee has created a survey for ag groups and is holding some staff meetings on carbon sequestration and climate change, but has not set any hearings. Last year, when a similar bill was debated in the Senate, there were floor amendments that would have allowed agriculture to play a role in offsets.”

Meanwhile, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) stated on Friday that, “Cap and trade is nothing more than a national energy tax, and the effects will be far reaching to businesses, consumers, and even more so to famers and ranchers. Whether it’s the fuel in the tractor, the fertilizer for the crops, or the delivery of food to the grocery store, agriculture uses a great deal of energy throughout production. The national energy tax included in this legislation would be devastating to our farmers and ranchers.”

In a related article that connects climate change legislation, agriculture and the indirect land use issue associated with biofuels, Dan Looker reported late last week at Agriculture Online that, “Friday, the ag committee chairman, Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN), told Agriculture Online that he will work to defeat any climate change legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives until his ‘Renewable Fuel Standard Improvement Act,’ becomes law. And he has let the House leadership know how he feels.

“‘I’ve told them I want this passed. I want it signed by the President before I’ll support anything else,’ he said Friday in a telephone interview from St. Cloud, Minnesota, where he was waiting for a thunderstorm to blow over before flying his own plane to his southwest Minnesota district for the weekend.

Mr. Looker stated that, “Next week, Peterson expects the House Energy and Commerce Committee, headed by Representative Henry Waxman of California, to pass a climate change bill. But he thinks he may have enough votes to defeat Waxman’s bill when the full House votes on it. Peterson’s bill that reins in the EPA has the backing of his committee’s top Republican, Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, all 29 Democrats on the committee, and by Monday, probably most of the Republicans. As of Friday his bill had support from a few other House Democrats, with 42 co-sponsors joining Peterson and Lucas in opposing the EPA. House Republicans are expected to vote as a block against the climate bill, anyway. So Peterson said he’ll need 37 Democrats to defeat the climate bill.

“‘If everybody stuck to their guns, we’d have enough votes, if they do get it out of Energy and Commerce — and they bought enough votes they can get it out of committee — then we can stop it on the floor,’ Peterson said.”

Climate Change: Legislation – Regulation

Political observers have noted that pressure for legislative action on the climate issue has escalated due to a recent executive branch finding that permits the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gases under the authority of the Clean Air Act.

Despite some controversy surrounding this executive branch action, the EPA noted in a news release from Friday that, “EPA will hold the first of two public hearings on Monday, May 18 regarding the agency’s proposed findings that greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare. The proposed findings identify six greenhouse gases that pose a potential threat.”

Biofuels

In other EPA action impacting the agricultural economy, an update posted to the Agency’s webpage on Friday stated that, “EPA is extending the comment period related to a waiver application to increase the allowable ethanol content of gasoline to 15 volume percent. Under the Federal Register Notice, published April 21, 2009, the public comment period was set to end on May 21, 2009. The purpose of this document is to extend the comment period an additional 60 days until July 20, 2009. This extension of the comment period is provided to allow the public additional time to respond to the legal and technical issues raised in the application.”

Animal Agriculture

John Holland reported on Friday at the Modesto Bill Online (California) that, “A state Assembly bill aims to expand the reach of Proposition 2, which will ban small hen cages at California egg farms as of 2015.

“The bill, endorsed by some of the opponents of the November ballot measure, would extend the ban to out-of-state farms for eggs they sell in California.

“This would get around one of the main complaints about Proposition 2 — that California’s industry will suffer if companies elsewhere can use the less expensive small-cage production.”

The Bee article added that, “The state’s egg industry is neutral on the new bill. Jill Benson, a vice president at J.S. West & Cos., a major producer based in Modesto, said the attention for now is on just what Proposition 2 will require of her company and others.”

An update posted on Friday at the United Egg Producers Certified Online included an educational flyer entitled, “How We Protect the Health and Welfare of our Hens.”

In part, this informational piece stated that, “To provide our hens that optimum protection, we have built modern, sanitary cage housing systems that the leading animal welfare and behavior scientists credit with reducing the diseases and mortality of hens, and nearly eliminating food borne diseases. This housing system allows for small groups of hens to be housed together, which is important because chickens tend to be social creatures. This housing system also allows us to inspect them daily and address any health or welfare issues that occur. The hens have continuous access to clean water and are fed several times a day.”

But most importantly, this modern, sanitary cage housing system allows our hens to lay their eggs in a clean cage environment, so that their eggs quickly roll out of the cage and onto a conveyor belt that carries them to our sanitary processing room where the eggs are washed, inspected, and graded. Then the eggs are packed and loaded onto trucks to be delivered to your grocery stores and restaurants, often within hours of when they were freshly laid!,” the item said.

And in a separate look at confinement production issues and hogs, Jeannine Otto reported yesterday at AgriNews Online that, “‘One of the historical reasons for us moving the animals into more confined facilities is for the opportunity to maintain a closeness and to maintain health,’ said Steve Moeller, state swine Extension specialist for Ohio State University.”

Yesterday’s article noted that, “‘Any time you can control the environment that the animals are in from the standpoint that the air they breathe and the animals and humans that they contact with, you have a better chance of controlling disease so confinement systems would be thought to be more predictable in terms of controlling exposures,’ said James McKean, Extension swine veterinarian at Iowa State University.”

Meanwhile, Dean Vickers, the Ohio state director of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), penned a response on Saturday at the Marion Star Online (Ohio) to an editorial item that had been written about HSUS last week.

Mr. Vickers indicated that, “It was disheartening to see Korre Boyer’s recent unwarranted attack on The Humane Society of the United States. Mr. Boyer is sadly ill-informed about the work of the organization, and it is necessary for us to correct the record.

“The HSUS is the nation’s largest animal welfare charity, with 11 million supporters, including more than 400,000 in Ohio alone. We operate the nation’s largest network of animal sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centers, as well as provide free veterinary care and other services for tens of thousands of animals each year.

“Contrary to Mr. Boyer’s caricature of the organization, we strongly encourage Americans to adopt dogs and cats, and in fact spend millions of dollars each year promoting the adoption of pets. We also celebrate the connection we share with them and the enrichment they bring to our lives.”

Mr. Vickers also noted that, “And at the same time, hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens are confined in tiny, barren battery cages so small that the birds can’t spread their wings, nest, dust bathe, perch, or even walk. Each caged hen has less space than a sheet of letter-sized paper on which to live for more than a year before she is slaughtered. It really is difficult to imagine a worse existence.

“It’s not just common sense that we should end this cruel and inhumane treatment of farm animals. An abundance of scientific evidence demonstrates that cramming farm animals into cages so small they can barely move is detrimental to their welfare and to food safety.”

However, with respect to HSUS funding activities and public representations of how the organization uses its resources, the ABC television news affiliate in Atlanta, Georgia recently aired an investigative report, “ABC News Atlanta Exposé on HSUS Donations,” (YouTube video reply- 3:37, via Andy Vance on Twitter) which contained some interesting observations.

Farmland Values

Steve Jordon reported in Saturday’s Omaha World-Herald that, “Nebraska farmland values increased rapidly over the past three years, but now that’s on pause, according to regional bankers.

“The good news, according to Omaha Federal Reserve economist Brian Briggeman, is that the state’s farmland is holding its value despite volatile agricultural markets and turmoil in the financial system.”

The article explained that, “Bankers from 255 institutions in a seven-state region provided data in the survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City [report available here]. Those states are Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, northern New Mexico and western Missouri.”

Peanuts

The National Peanut Board indicated last week that, “The USDA recently announced the passage of a referendum to continue the National Peanut Board, a farmer funded advertising, promotion and research board that works to increase demand for USA-grown peanuts. The referendum, held in April, was passed by 89 percent of the producers who voted. Ballots were mailed to all peanut growers who paid the promotion assessment in 2008.

“‘We’re thrilled at this vote of confidence, and we pledge to continue working hard to bring great value to America’s peanut Farmers,’ said Roger Neitsch, NPB chairman.”

Keith Good

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