Climate Legislation; Ag Economy; Animal Agriculture; Nutrition Programs; Doha and Farmers Computer Usage
An article posted this morning at Roll Call Online reported that, “With health care town halls generating all the heat this August, global warming legislation has been left to simmer on the back burner.
“Democrats and President Barack Obama are in the throes of an all-out public relations war to rescue their health care plans, which have been beset by falling poll ratings and increasingly vitriolic attacks. As such, Democrats have been far less focused on their climate change ambitions, which they still hold even as the calendar gets more crowded and lawmakers’ stomachs for tough votes shrink.”
Today’s article indicated that, “Democrats say that while the spotlight is on health care, they are quietly negotiating the nitty gritty details of a cap-and-trade bill that can pass the Senate, perhaps garnering the votes of Republicans such as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who has backed similar legislation in the past.
“Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, is working with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on the climate change bill and plans to introduce it when the Senate returns from the August recess. In the meantime, while much of official Washington is on vacation, staff members are holed up in committee offices hashing out the details, far from the glare of the national spotlight.
“‘In our hallway, it looks like National Airport with all the comings and goings,’ a senior Democratic staffer on the Environment and Public Works Committee said. ‘We’re pretty much at full tilt.’”
The Roll Call article stated that, “Republicans are forecasting doom, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who has said he wants to kill any cap-and-trade measure.
“‘I think the necessity for Democrats to fire on all cylinders on health care and the unwillingness to put their neck out there on some other possibly unpopular proposal makes it less likely they’ll get cap-and-trade,’ one GOP leadership aide said. ‘That and they have to figure out how to keep Barbara Boxer from being the face of it in the Senate.’”
In a more specific look at lawmaker’s perspective on climate legislation, Christa Marshall of ClimateWire provided a more in depth look at how Indiana’s Senators view the issue in an article posted last week at The New York Times Online.
In part, Ms. Marshall noted that, “[GOP Senator Richard Lugar] said too many compromises were made on the House side, leaving little certainty that the measure would do anything to control warming temperatures. Meanwhile, the senator received 8,000 letters in July from his constituents slamming climate legislation. In the same time frame, some 56 supporters contacted his office.
“‘That’s not a scientific poll, but that’s the sentiment in my state, and that’s a fairly large number of people on a subject that isn’t even on the Senate floor yet,’ Lugar said. The Senate is not expected to release its version of climate legislation until September.”
Meanwhile, Kelsey Risbrudt reported on Friday at the Echo Press Online (Alexandria, Minn.) that cap and trade was an issue that came up during a meeting last week that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) had with constituents.
The Echo Press article reported that, “The cap and trade issue was another big topic at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Peterson stated that a court case out East is what’s driving the measure, which would control carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and other sources. A judge found that greenhouse gasses are an endangerment to health. A bill moving through Congress would regulate greenhouse gas and its uses.
“Peterson, who voted for the bill after allowances were made for farmers, is hoping that changes will be made in the Senate before it becomes law. ‘Farmers have more power in the Senate than in the House,’ said Peterson. ‘They’re working to protect the farmers when it doesn’t happen in the House.’”
Jim Snyder reported on Saturday at The Hill Online that, “Critics of the Dems’ carbon-capping climate legislation are stoking fear that it would kill jobs and raise energy prices if it goes ahead this fall.
“Instead of town halls and angry confrontations with lawmakers, farm and fossil fuel groups are using tractor pulls and county fairs and national advertising campaigns to spread their message that a climate bill will hurt the economy.
“Energy Citizens, an alliance that includes the American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, is planning 21 rallies in 20 states to build grassroots opposition to the climate bill sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).”
The Hill article added that, “The grassroots effort is focusing on farmers and employees of energy companies and energy intensive industries who could feel the effects of a cap on carbon more acutely to build a network of opposition.”
Similarly, David A. Fahrenthold reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that, “A petroleum industry trade group is asking oil companies to recruit employees and retirees to attend rallies attacking climate-change legislation, an approach to grass-roots politics that resembles strategies used recently by some opponents of health-care reform.
“In a memo this month, American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard detailed plans for ‘Energy Citizen’ rallies to be held in 20 states during the final two weeks of Congress’s August recess. Gerard wrote that the intent was to put a ‘human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy,’ including a climate-change bill passed by the House in June.”
Yesterday’s Post article added that, “Environmental groups on Saturday criticized the rallies, which they described as manufactured events intended to pass as organic assemblies of concerned citizens. Greenpeace activists said they saw parallels to the health-care debate, where opponents of reform — including some organizations that receive heavy funding from industry groups and individuals — have organized efforts to shout down lawmakers at ‘town hall’ meetings.”
In addition to the political considerations associated with climate legislation, some recent articles also touched on specific policy aspects of new legislation.
Amanda DeBard, writing in today’s Washington Times, reported that, “The House-passed climate change bill, if enacted, would expand the federal government so much that it would take billions of dollars and thousands of new employees to implement.
“Now-obscure federal agencies such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would have to become mini-behemoths in order to handle their expanded responsibilities. Congress would have to appropriate billions of dollars for more bureaucrats, much of which is not reflected in the House bill.”
The Washington Times article explained that, “One provision would almost overnight create the nation’s largest commodity market in which polluters would buy and sell rights to emit carbon dioxide. These rights – called allowances – are at the heart of the measure, which seeks to slash the amount of greenhouse gases by forcing polluters to curb their emissions or pay for the right to pollute.
“‘It could be a $2 trillion market within five years,’ said Bart Chilton, commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
“The commission, which would police the new futures market for allowances, apparently would need to expand its work force by at least 31 percent initially to fulfill its obligations under the bill. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which would oversee the day-to-day trading of allowances, has estimated that it would have to expand by 20 percent or 30 percent.
“The Environmental Protection Agency, which would oversee pollution regulation, also would balloon in size. The agency regulates 330 million tons of pollution a year but would regulate 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year from 7,400 facilities under the legislation.”
In a separate look at potential issues with federal climate legislation, Kari Lydersen reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Advocates hope the climate-control legislation pending in Congress would force these [older power] plants to close. But they also warn that, depending how various aspects of the bill play out, it could instead motivate companies to increase their reliance on archaic plants.
“If a climate-change bill drives up the cost of opening new plants, but provides free emissions allowances or potential carbon offsets for existing facilities, companies could have an incentive to squeeze even more power out of their old plants, many of which are running well below capacity.
“Some environmental groups are urging the Senate to include in its version of the legislation provisions to prevent that. But the legislation passed by the House in late June — known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act — mandates a 50 percent carbon reduction by 2025 for new plants, but puts no site-specific carbon-reduction requirements on existing facilities.”
And DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday that, “Noting that the U.S. is the ‘Saudi Arabia of coal,’ the director of power production for the Associated Electric Cooperative told a group of folks skeptical about climate change Thursday that climate legislation in Congress is a big threat to the Midwest way of life.”
Friday’s DTN article added that, “[Duane Highley] explained to about 150 people Thursday that the Waxman-Markey bill would have its biggest impact in states such as Missouri, which relies on coal for 85 percent of its power. The climate bill that passed the House in late June is named after Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Ed Markey, D-Mass.
“‘We’re looking at a big threat to your way of life,’ Highley told the crowd.
Ken Anderson reported on Friday at Brownfield that, “Ag bankers in the Federal Reserve Bank’s Kansas City district say the overall farm economy remains solid, despite continued weakness in the hog and dairy sectors.
“The Fed’s quarterly survey of ag credit conditions shows little changed in the second quarter, and that lenders expect conditions to improve somewhat in the next three months. Jason Henderson with the Kansas City Fed’s Omaha branch says while loan delinquency rates have edged up slightly, they still remain at historical lows.”
In a much broader analysis, Sarah McFarlane reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Investors are showing signs of renewed interest in farmland, especially in Canada, Australia and Africa.
“Land prices around the world rose sharply in the lead-up to the recession, buoyed by high food prices and increased investor demand. When food prices fell in the second half of 2008, the price of the land that produced them did as well.
“But the underlying fundamentals of the market — limited land availability, water scarcity, increasing food demand and food security concerns — lead analysts to expect land prices in some countries to recover quickly.”
The Journal article stated that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in an annual report this month that U.S. farmland values had fallen for the first time in more than 20 years, due to the contraction of the U.S. economy and a fall in livestock and grain prices on the year.
“By contrast, Africa is attracting increasing interest as the ‘last frontier’ for farmland development. Emergent Asset Management, which launched the African Land Fund in 2008, says land in Zambia sells for around $320 an acre.”
A Congressional Research Report (CRS) released late last week (“The Farm Price-Cost Squeeze and U.S. Farm Policy,” by Dennis A. Shields. 8.13) stated that, “When farm commodity prices fall and costs of production rise, farmers can get caught in a ‘farm price-cost squeeze.’ The potential for such a financial bind dates to the first half of the 20th century when farmers began purchasing more of their farm inputs such as fertilizers, improved seeds, and feed concentrates. Since the 1930s, U.S. agriculture has been supported through the ups and downs of the market by federal farm policy, most recently set under the 2008 farm bill.
“In 2009, some farmers find themselves in difficult financial circumstances, following high farm prices and relatively prosperous times in 2007 and 2008. Currently, livestock, dairy, and poultry producers are facing particularly low or negative returns based in part on input prices, primarily for feedstuffs, that have not fallen as fast as output prices. In order to survive, many farmers are drawing on equity built up in recent years. Meanwhile, producers of crops, both federally supported ones such as grain and cotton as well as non-program crops such as fruits and vegetables, continue to deal with volatile costs of energy and fertilizer, which are affecting their returns. In some instances, Members of Congress and policymakers in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are being asked by farm groups to consider additional support.”
Philip Brasher reported on Friday at the Green Fields Blog (The Des Moines Register) that, “Groups representing livestock producers, meatpackers and veterinarians told the White House today there’s no scientific basis for restricting the use of antibiotics in food animals. However, the groups say they are not ‘dug in’ on the issue.
“The Food and Drug administration last month called for ending the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in livestock and requiring veterinary approval for all other uses of the drugs. The FDA’s policy change comes as some lawmakers are pushing legislation that would end the farm usage of seven classes of antibiotics, including penicillins and tetracyclines, except to treat ill animals.
“In a seven-page letter today to the president’s domestic policy adviser, Melody Barnes, the industry groups said that ‘no conclusive scientific studies have been offered demonstrating the use of antibiotics on farms contributes significantly to an increase in human resistance.’ The groups also claim, citing studies at Iowa State and elsewhere, that cutting back on antibiotic usage could increase the prevalence of pathogens in meat that are harmful to humans.”
The editorial board at the Chicago Tribune weighed in on this issue on Saturday (“Antibiotics and Meat”) noting in part that, “The evidence says the benefits of phasing out routine antibiotic use among livestock would outweigh the costs. The meat industry can do this by itself — or wait for Congress.”
Meanwhile, Jeanne Bernick reported last week at TopProducer Online that, “The HSUS [The Human Society of the United States] says it is prepared to launch a statewide ballot initiative campaign for November 2010 [in Ohio] to ensure that animals on factory farms are given enough room to turn around and extend their limbs.
“‘Ohio is a significant state with substantial production of beef, dairy, poultry and pork,’ says Don Lipton, director of public relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. ‘It has more diverse livestock production than previous HSUS battleground states. In national politics, Ohio is a bellwether state, one that is fiercely contested. It’s also the site of a lot of consumer test marketing, partly because of its rich mix of rural and urban areas.’ The outcome in Ohio could influence future battles—and the livestock industry and demand for feed.”
Tony Pugh reported on Saturday at the Sacramento Bee Online that, “The number of U.S. students who receive free and reduced-cost meals at school could soar to a 41-year high this school year, as record job losses and high unemployment push thousands more children into poverty, many for the first time.
“According to projections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at least 18.5 million low-income students are expected to eat in the school lunch program each day during the 2009-10 school year. More than 8.5 million are expected to eat breakfast.
“Both projections are about the same as the record participation levels the programs set last year. If rising family homelessness and steady growth in the food stamp program are any indication, however, enrollment in both student-meal programs could swell well beyond expectations this fall.”
Reuters writer Jonathan Lynn reported yesterday that, “A successful Doha round trade deal could boost the global economy by $300-700 billion a year, a study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics said.
“The figures that the Washington-based institute calculates are similar in size to stimulus packages deployed by the biggest countries to tackle the economic crisis, and underline how much is at stake in the long-running talks.
“Delays in completing the round, now in its eighth year, prompted two leading trade economists at the institute — Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Jeff Schott — to examine the potential benefits.”
Farmers Computer Usage
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released a report on Friday entitled, “Farm Computer Usage and Ownership.”
In part, the NASS report stated that, “DSL was the most common method of accessing the Internet, with 36 percent of U.S. farms using it, up from 27 percent in 2007. In 2007, dialup was the most common method of accessing the internet. Dialup access dropped from 47 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2009. Satellite and wireless were each reported as the primary internet access methods on 13 percent of those U.S. farms with Internet access. Cable was reported as the primary access method on 11 percent of the farms.
“A total of 59 percent of U.S. farms now have Internet access, compared with 57 percent in 2007. Sixty-four percent of farms have access to a computer in 2009, the same level as 2007.”
The NASS report noted that, “In 2009, 81 percent of U.S. farms with sales and government payments of $250,000 or more have access to a computer, 79 percent own or lease a computer, 69 percent are using a computer for their farm business, and 76 percent have Internet access.”