FarmPolicy

October 25, 2014

Climate Bill (Chairman Peterson); Farm Bill; Trade Issues; Food Prices; Peanuts; and The Organic Label

Climate Bill (Chairman Peterson)

Yesterday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) was a guest on the AgriTalk Radio Program with Mike Adams. The focus of the conversation was the Waxman-Markey climate bill that passed the House last week.

In the first audio segment (MP3-5:30) from yesterday’s interview with Chairman Peterson on AgriTalk, the discussion focused on the bill in more general terms and contained a broader analysis of the legislation.

In the second segment (MP3-8:00), the Chairman provided more analytical detail with respect to the legislation and focused on how the bill might be tweaked in the Senate and addressed some international issues associated with the bill.

Also in the second audio segment, Chairman Peterson reminded listeners that the executive branch, under the Environmental Protection Agency, has garnered authority to regulate some greenhouse gas emissions and would act on climate related issues if Congress chose not to address the topic. Like other lawmakers and agricultural stakeholders, Chairman Peterson articulated that letting EPA address the climate issue independently and without input from Congress would most likely lead to an undesirable outcome.

Similarly, an Op-Ed item released yesterday (“Why NAWG Supports Climate Change Legislation”) by the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) explained why the organization supported the climate bill and stated that, “Many in Congress and President Barack Obama are highly motivated to see the federal government act to reduce emissions, and the Supreme Court ruled in 2007’s Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gasses, or GHGs, pose a human health hazard and can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Just a few months ago, EPA took the first steps to carry out that ruling, opening the door to regulation of emissions including those from agricultural producers, their livestock and their machinery. As much as farmers might like to just be left alone, there is no way to dodge this bullet.”

Yesterday’s NAWG item, which was written by the organization’s president, Karl Scronce, added that, “The reality is that either scenario – legislation or top-down regulation – is going to be costly for farmers and many other sectors in the economy. The only question now is how costly. Though we don’t have an exact figure associated with the recently-passed House bill, we believe and history suggests it will be much less expensive than leaving it to EPA to write the rules.”

Also yesterday, NAWG Director of Government Affairs for Environmental Policy Mark Gaede provided an audio update on NAWG’s position on climate change legislation- click here to listen (MP3-9:00).

In related analysis, Kimberly A. Strassel, who writes the weekly “Potomac Watch” column at The Wall Street Journal opinion page, elaborated on the so-called endangerment finding that provided the executive branch the authority to regulate some greenhouse gas emissions (“The EPA Silences a Climate Skeptic”).

Ms. Strassel explained that, “In March, the Obama EPA prepared to engage the global-warming debate in an astounding new way, by issuing an ‘endangerment’ finding on carbon. It establishes that carbon is a pollutant, and thereby gives the EPA the authority to regulate it — even if Congress doesn’t act” [FarmPolicy.com background available here].

“Around this time, [Alan Carlin, 35-year Environmental Protection Agency veteran] and a colleague presented a 98-page analysis arguing the agency should take another look, as the science behind man-made global warming is inconclusive at best. The analysis noted that global temperatures were on a downward trend. It pointed out problems with climate models. It highlighted new research that contradicts apocalyptic scenarios. ‘We believe our concerns and reservations are sufficiently important to warrant a serious review of the science by EPA,’ the report read.

The response to Mr. Carlin was an email from his boss, Al McGartland, forbidding him from ‘any direct communication’ with anyone outside of his office with regard to his analysis. When Mr. Carlin tried again to disseminate his analysis, Mr. McGartland decreed: ‘The administrator and the administration have decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. . . . I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.’ (Emphasis added.)”

The Journal opinion column added that, “The emails were unearthed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Republican officials are calling for an investigation; House Energy Committee ranking member Joe Barton sent a letter with pointed questions to Mrs. Jackson [Lisa Jackson, the EPA Administrator], which she’s yet to answer. The EPA has issued defensive statements, claiming Mr. Carlin wasn’t ignored. But there is no getting around that the Obama administration has flouted its own promises of transparency.”

Meanwhile, in an update posted yesterday at The Hill’s Congress Blog, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) stated that, “Last week the House of Representatives barely passed a ‘cap and trade’ bill, and the Senate may take up similar legislation later this year. Should a cap and trade program similar to the one passed by the House become law, it would have a significant impact on all sectors of our economy, so it is important that Congress considers this legislation with thoughtful debate and an open exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, it appears as though the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency is not interested in open debate, but rather pushing through a closed ideological agenda.”

Sen. Thune noted that, “Recently, an email exchange has been made public in which Dr. Al McGartland, Director of the National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), apparently suppresses the scientific views of Dr. Alan Carlin, an NCEE economist. Dr. Carlin strongly believed that the EPA erred in determining that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses should be regulated by the EPA under the authority of the Clean Air Act.”

Climate Bill- Interlinking International Issues

Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Climate change is one of the topics on the agenda for the summit of the Group of Eight largest industrial countries, which will be held in earthquake-damaged L’Aquila, Italy. The G-8 — the U.S., Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and Britain — will meet on Wednesday, and then be joined by the five largest developing economies — Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa — plus Egypt in a separate meeting. By Thursday, when President Barack Obama is slated to lead the Major Economies Forum, as many as 39 countries will be represented. The summit closes Friday.”

The Journal article explained that, “The U.S., European Union and 12 of the world’s largest nations plan to embrace ‘an aspirational goal’ of reducing emissions of global-warming gases by 50% by 2050, according to a draft declaration by world leaders set for release next week in Italy.”

Mr. Weisman noted that, “Climate change is likely to dominate the final sessions of the conference. Participants would like to make significant progress ahead of a United Nations conference in December in Copenhagen, when a successor to the Kyoto Accord is supposed to be completed. The treaty to combat global warming expires in 2012.”

Bloomberg writers Jim Efstathiou Jr. and Daniel Whitten reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Senate may pass legislation to slow climate change and then fail to approve a global treaty that commits nations to do so, Senator John Kerry said.

“Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, will be a leader in Senate efforts to place the first domestic curbs on greenhouse gases, after the House approved a measure last week. Even if a Senate bill passes, there may not be enough support to ratify an international accord incorporating the U.S. commitments, the Massachusetts Democrat said in an interview.

“A possible Senate rejection poses a threat to the 192- nation effort to forge an agreement, which scientists say can help slow warming that’s raising sea levels and changing rainfall patterns globally.”

The article reminded readers that, “Senate ratification of a treaty would require 67 votes, compared with 60 for legislation.”

After additional analysis, the Bloomberg article indicated that, “At the very least, Kerry said Obama will be able to go to Copenhagen with the House-passed measure and a draft of Senate legislation as a road map.”

In other news regarding Senate action on climate legislation, an update posted yesterday at Brownfield included an audio interview with Darren Samuelsohn, who covers environmental issues for the online subscription news service ‘Greenwire.’” The audio interview explored potential Senate timelines for addressing Waxman-Markey and also addressed some political variables associated with agriculture.

Climate Bill- Focus on Agriculture

The July 2 edition of The Kiplinger Agriculture Letter provided background and analysis with respect to climate legislation and agriculture. In part, the Kiplinger item indicated that, “Farmers will be showered with conservation incentives to store carbon in soil in efforts to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Cap and trade rules will encourage industrial polluters to buy offsetting carbon credits from farmers.

“Farmers can expect sellable credits for a host of carbon saving activities…no-till cropping, tree plantings, restoring wetlands, farm waste biodigesters, etc.

“Any such practices they’ve already employed since 2000 will count for credits. And they can double dip, collecting other incentives on the same land.

“Farmers will also receive grants to establish carbon saving practices, including preservation of forests as well as others that may not qualify for credits.

“What’s more, Congress will exempt ag and forestry from emission controls other sectors will have to use to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“And USDA will get the authority to run the carbon offsets program for ag and forestry…not EPA, which will oversee other climate change provisions.
As part of the program, farmers will submit their plans for carbon storage to the Ag Department, which will quantify carbon storage totals and issue credits.”

Farm Bill (SURE)

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Disaster payments are capped at $100,000 for producers, and they must carry crop insurance on commodity crops to collect payments under rules published Wednesday for USDA’s disaster programs from the 2008 farm bill.

“USDA published the final rule for the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program, which is known by the acronym SURE. Final rules were also posted for the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) and Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-Related Fish (ELAP).

“The rules explain general guidelines for the program and language drafted in the 2008 farm bill. Under the programs, no person or entities can receive more than $100,000 in payments in a crop year collecting payments under any or all of the programs combined. The program has specific language to divide payments for farms owned by multiple entities and how to account for payments a farmer or owner may have received for other properties as well.”

For more information, see this Federal Register update.

Trade Issues

Reuters news reported yesterday that, “A Chinese vice minister denied reports China was blocking imports of chicken from the U.S.

“Chen Jian told reporters, ‘According to our information, China’s chicken imports are normal and orderly with stable prices.’

The U.S.A. Poultry and Egg Export Council earlier this week said China had been telling U.S. producers that import permits wouldn’t be issued for U.S. poultry products.”

In a related item, the “Washington Insider” section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “China’s complaints about the U.S. ban on imported Chinese chicken parts have been embarrassing to the United States for some time, and they ratcheted a major notch higher this week. Chinese officials apparently are in the process of formally notifying U.S. poultry industry officials they will stop buying U.S. chicken, a move widely seen as retaliation for the ban, and for several other recent U.S. trade policy moves.

“This is a big deal. China is the top U.S. poultry export market, and exporters say they stand to lose about $370 million over the next six months if the ban holds. And, they are especially furious at our own Congress for the action that triggered the problem, and which the chicken industry says is unwarranted.

“This spring, the FY 2010 Agriculture appropriations bill included a provision that prevents USDA from allowing Chinese chicken plants to send poultry products to the United States. The language was pushed hard by House Ag Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who led other lawmakers in questioning whether China’s chicken processing plants meet U.S. standards — in spite of USDA recommendations.”

A separate Reuters news article from yesterday reported that, “The U.S. government is concerned about industry reports that China will stop issuing import permits for chicken, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative said Thursday.

“The USTR and U.S. Agriculture Department are investigating the reports, Debbie Mesloh said.”

Food Prices

A news release issued yesterday by the American Farm Bureau Federation stated that, “Retail food prices at the supermarket decreased slightly for the third consecutive quarter, according to the latest American Farm Bureau Federation Marketbasket Survey. The informal survey shows the total cost of 16 food items that can be used to prepare a meal was $46.29, down about 2 percent or $1.12 from the first quarter of 2009. Of the 16 items surveyed, 10 decreased, five increased and one remained the same in average price compared to the prior quarter.”

Peanuts

Brad Haire indicated in an item posted on Wednesday at the Southeast Farm Press Online that, “During a normal spring, Georgia farmers start planting peanuts in late April and finish in 40 days. This year, due to crazy springtime weather, it took 75 days to complete planting for the state’s expected 500,000 acres, said John Beasley, UGA [University of Georgia] Extension peanut expert.

“‘The word I have for this planting season is ‘discombobulated,’” said Beasley. ‘And it was as discombobulated as I have ever seen.’

“Now that planting is over and most plants are coming up, the crop is looking okay, he said, considering. But 50 percent of the crop was planted in June. Typically, only 10 percent is planted in this month.

“This means peanut harvest will push into mid-October. Normal nighttime temperatures then will be in the lower 60s, a range peanuts can tolerate. If temperatures drop any lower, maturity and yields will be hurt.”

Meanwhile, an audio update posted yesterday (1:42) at Southeast AgNet Online indicated that, “Today Tyron Spearman talks about efforts underway to get the U.S. Government to make more purchases of peanuts and peanut butter.”

For more background on the peanut butter purchase issue, just click here.

The Organic Label

Kimberly Kindy and Lyndsey Layton reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Relaxation of the federal standards, and an explosion of consumer demand, have helped push the organics market into a $23 billion-a-year business, the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Half of the country’s adults say they buy organic food often or sometimes, according to a survey last year by the Harvard School of Public Health.

“But the USDA program’s shortcomings mean that consumers, who at times must pay twice as much for organic products, are not always getting what they expect: foods without pesticides and other chemicals, produced in a way that is gentle to the environment.

The market’s expansion is fueling tension over whether the federal program should be governed by a strict interpretation of ‘organic’ or broadened to include more products by allowing trace elements of non-organic substances. The argument is not over whether the non-organics pose a health threat, but whether they weaken the integrity of the federal organic label.

“Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has pledged to protect the label, even as he acknowledged the pressure to lower standards to let more products in.”

Keith Good

Comments are closed.