FarmPolicy

November 28, 2014

Climate Legislation; Biofuels; Nutrition Programs; H1N1; Animal Agriculture; and Doha

Climate Legislation

David A. Fahrenthold reported yesterday at The Washington Post Online that, “Will the real U.S. Chamber of Commerce please stand up?

Environmental activists held a hoax press conference Monday morning, pretending to be the business group — and pretending to announce that the chamber was dropping its opposition to climate-change legislation now in Congress.

“The event, complete with fake handouts on chamber letterhead, at least a couple of fake reporters, and a podium adorned with the chamber logo, broke up when a spokesman from the real chamber burst in.”

Today’s article added that, “What followed was a spectacle not usually seen in the John Peter Zenger Room at the National Press Club: two men in business suits shouting at one another, each calling the other an impostor and demanding to see business cards.

“‘This guy is a fake! He’s lying! This is a stunt that I’ve never seen before,’ said Eric Wohlschlegel, an official at the actual Chamber of Commerce, who said he’d heard about the hoax event from a reporter who’d mistakenly shown up at the chamber’s headquarters.”

And an update posted yesterday at CQPolitics reported that, “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has not reversed itself to support strong cap-and-trade climate change legislation, contrary to a spoofed press release issued Monday.

“The phony release, sent out under the Chamber’s letterhead, includes a link to what was purported to be the text of a speech Monday morning by Chamber President Tom Donohue.”

Meanwhile, Lisa Lerer reported yesterday at Politico.com that, “The White House and congressional Democrats are working to marginalize the Chamber of Commerce — the powerful business lobby opposed to many of President Barack Obama’s first-year priorities — by going around the group and dealing directly with the CEOs of major U.S. corporations.

“Since June, senior White House officials have met directly with executives from more than 55 companies, including Chamber members Pfizer, Eastman Kodak and IBM.”

Ms. Lerer indicated that, “Chamber officials say the White House is scapegoating the Chamber and other trade associations as a way of dividing the business community, a move that could help the administration make headway on health care reform, climate change legislation and regulatory reform.”

With respect to climate change legislation and timing, Darren Goode reported yesterday at the National Journal Online that, “Amid a dwindling legislative calendar and intense public and congressional debate on health care and the economy, it’s worth asking the following question: Are Senate Democrats close to a bipartisan deal on climate change legislation and, if so, can a bill be considered in the full Senate this year?

“While there’s been no official word from Senate leaders on the priority after health care, Finance Committee member Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., believes financial regulatory reform is ‘in the queue after health care,’ with unemployment insurance as a top priority for the full body. The latter would ‘move very quickly,’ Wyden said.

One line of thinking goes that financial services reform might not require the heavy lifting that climate change will – and is more of a priority with the recession fresh on everyone’s mind.

Yesterday’s article added that, “‘The adrenaline is all moving now and then there’ll be a let-down, and I don’t know if people are going to be excited about tackling another great big complicated thing right away,’ Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said. ‘I mean, this Congress hasn’t tackled hardly any big thorny policy issues for a long, long time. Two in 12 months? I think that that would be remarkable. And I’m not holding my breath.’”

Also on the timing issue, Emily Pierce reported today at Roll Call that, “Congressional Democrats are going to have to step up the pace a bit if they hope to do all those things they promised before the end of the year.

“For all practical purposes, there are only about eight workweeks left in 2009 for the majority to pass sweeping health care reform, fund the federal government for the next year and throw the still sluggish economy a bone.

The tight timeline makes it next to impossible to get climate change legislation or banking regulatory reform to the Senate floor.”

Today’s Roll Call article explained that, “Finally, few Senate Democrats are willing to say publicly that climate change legislation is going to be pushed into next year, but a second senior Senate Democratic aide said the debate would be ‘too bruising’ to attempt after the ups and downs of health care.

Senate committee action on that global warming legislation is about all that will happen this year, aides said.

“‘The political fight is too hard to take on right after you do health care,’ the second aide said.”

In other legislative developments, Edward Felker reported in today’s Washington Times that, “A little noticed Environmental Protection Agency analysis shows that the pending climate-change bill in Congress would particularly benefit the states represented by its primary authors.

“The analysis, obtained by The Washington Times, shows that the states that would benefit most from the climate legislation that passed the House in June include California and Massachusetts. The bill was co-authored by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, and Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat.

“A spokeswoman for Mr. Waxman, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the EPA’s analysis is preliminary and ‘has significant limitations’ that fail to account for emissions from plants outside California that provide electricity to the state.”

Today’s article noted that, “Critics see the analysis as another reason to go slow on legislation that would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by establishing a new system of trading emission allowances called cap-and-trade.

“The EPA analysis was included in the agency’s response to inquiries by Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, about the House bill.”

As the climate debate continues to unfold, Kim Murphy reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “While gradually warming global temperatures long have been seen as an environmental threat, a study released Monday suggested that the forests of the Pacific Northwest could see a substantial gain in productivity as the thermometer climbs.”

From an international perspective, Andrew C. Revkin reported in today’s New York Times that, “A two-day meeting of officials from countries responsible for the bulk of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions ended Monday in London with hints that rich and developing nations might be able to bridge at least some of their differences on issues hobbling agreement on a new climate treaty.

“The session was the sixth in a string of informal meetings of ‘major economies’ — 16 countries plus the European Union — initiated by the Obama administration last spring.

“The meetings, building on an earlier series of sessions started by the Bush administration, focused on the world’s biggest emitters of heat-trapping gases to build momentum toward a new climate treaty when formal negotiations take place in December in Copenhagen.

“At a news conference after the meeting, officials from the United States and Britain rejected the idea that a deadline set by the world’s countries to negotiate a new climate agreement by December would slip.”

Dow Jones News writer Selina Williams reported yesterday on the meetings in London and stated that, “U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, who co-chaired the meeting with the U.K., told reporters he found the meeting of the world’s 17 biggest polluters ‘constructive.’ Stern added that progress had been made on making domestic actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions binding.

“The communique from the MEF meeting added that G20 finance ministers should advance the discussions on climate finance at their meeting in November in St. Andrews in Scotland.

“The MEF meetings are not an official part of the U.N. negotiations towards a deal at Copenhagen, but are intended to support the talks.”

And in opinion regarding climate issues, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, indicated at Roll Call yesterday that, “No matter how many times Congress debates it, and no matter how environmentalists couch it, cap-and-trade will do virtually nothing to stop global warming, and cap-and-trade, as Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said, ‘is a tax, and a great big one.’ These are the fundamentals in the cap-and-trade debate, and Republicans must refocus on them.”

Pete Du Pont opined in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Like Waxman-Markey, Boxer-Kerry would expand the control the government has over the American economy, businesses, and individuals. It would have little impact on reducing global warming but would significantly depress our economy. One wonders if the purpose of the Boxer-Kerry bill is really just to give the U.S. something to take to Copenhagen for the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference in December.

“High-cost policies with low-impact results are not in America’s best interests, so we should postpone both bills and think through more clearly our desired energy policies.”

Climate Legislation- Crop Insurance

Matt Bewley reported yesterday at AgWeek Online that, “If a carbon cap-and-trade policy is instituted as part of the climate change legislation now before Congress, those in the crop insurance industry may be able to develop some new business, according to Cole Gustafson of North Dakota State University’s Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics.

“A national carbon cap-and-trade program likely would require companies that emit more greenhouse gases than the cap allows to reduce their emissions or purchase offsets from those who can store carbon. Farmers and ranchers could earn credits for the carbon they sequester from the atmosphere in their soil through reduced tillage practices, regulated grazing and conversion of cropland to grassland. The credits, in turn, are sold to the gas-emitting companies in the form of offsets, through an exchange market like the Chicago Climate Exchange. The companies then can use the offsets to reduce their greenhouse gas liability.

“But the government and companies buying offsets will want proof that the carbon is being properly held in the soil.”

Yesterdays article noted that, “These verifiers confirm project eligibility, ownership of environmental attributes and ongoing project performance and inspect data such as meter readings, fuel purchases and records.

Gustafson says crop insurance adjustors would be a good fit for this kind of work.

“‘The crop insurance agents are very good and prepared to do many of those tasks,’ he says. ‘They already work directly with producers and they monitor farm activity and programs like this to make sure that they are complying with farm program requirements, as well as specifications for the crop insurance policies.’”

Biofuels

Guy Chazan reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that, “The biofuels industry, hit hard by the global credit crunch, is getting a shot in the arm from a new source–the oil majors.

“Among the oil companies, BP PLC and Royal Dutch Shell PLC have been the most active investors in the sector. But it’s even beginning to attract more-conservative companies like Exxon Mobil Corp., whose chief executive, Rex Tillerson, once famously dismissed corn-based ethanol as ‘moonshine.’ Exxon announced in July it was investing $600 million in an algae-to-fuel start-up, Synthetic Genomics Inc.”

The Journal article stated that, “Big Oil and biotech may seem an odd combination. Oil companies’ profits are driven by traditional, fossil-based gasoline and diesel. Biofuels are alternatives that have a marginal market presence. So why switch to switchgrass?

“The answer is the low-carbon policies now being put in place across the developed world. In the U.S., for example, the Renewable Fuels Standard mandates growth in annual sales of biofuels through 2022. The Department of Energy expects U.S. production of biofuels to increase from less than half a million barrels a day in 2007 to 2.3 million barrels a day in 2030. Inevitably, that will erode the oil majors’ conventional business.”

Nutrition Programs

Mary MacVean reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “Children would get fewer French fries and more dark green vegetables in school cafeterias under recommendations being issued today by an Institute of Medicine panel.

In addition, for the first time in the National School Lunch Program, the committee called for calorie limits on meals in an effort to curb obesity. The lunch recommendations allot 650 calories for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, 700 calories in sixth to eighth grade, and 850 calories in high school. Breakfasts should not be above 500, 550 and 600, respectively, for the same grade levels, the committee said.”

The LA Times article pointed out that, “Recommendations from the panel, made up of scientists and school food officials, must be approved by the Department of Agriculture.

“The panel acknowledged that its recommendations would increase costs and called for a higher federal reimbursement to school districts, capital investments and money to train cafeteria workers to make the changes. Food costs for breakfasts could rise as much as 9%, and for lunches as much as 25%, if all the recommendations were enacted, the committee said.”

H1N1

Reuters writers Christopher Doering and Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “A U.S. hog has tested positive for the pandemic H1N1 flu virus for the first time ever, the Agriculture Department confirmed on Monday.

“USDA said the virus was found in a hog exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair where four teenagers became sick.

The discovery does not suggest infection of commercial pig herds raised for slaughter, USDA said. So far, it said, preliminary positives have been found in three hogs with tests confirming pandemic H1N1 on one of them.

Health officials say the virus, originally known as swine flu is not linked to meat products.”

The National Pork Producers Council issued a statement yesterday, which noted in part that, “With today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that pigs in Minnesota tested positive for the 2009 novel H1N1 virus, the National Pork Producers Council reiterates that pork is safe to eat and handle and that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu viruses cannot be transmitted through food, including pork.”

Animal Agriculture

Sarah Muirhead reported late last week at Feedstuffs Online that, “The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), with support from Dairy Management Inc., formally launched the National Dairy FARM Program: Farmers Assuring Responsible Management at the 2009 World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.

The voluntary, nationwide program is designed to bring consistency and uniformity to animal care through education, on-farm evaluations and objective, third-party verification.

“‘Dairy farmers are passionate about the care they provide to their animals. The National Dairy FARM Program takes that producer passion and quantifies it to tell the story of dairy animal care to our customers and consumers,’ said Jamie Jonker, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at NMPF.”

Doha

Reuters writer Jonathan Lynn reported yesterday that, “Brazil plans to organise a meeting of trade ministers in late November to discuss progress in the World Trade Organisation’s long-running Doha round, a senior Brazilian official said on Monday.

The meeting would be an opportunity to take stock of the troubled talks just before the WTO’s much-delayed ministerial conference, which — formally at least — is supposed to focus on long-term strategic questions and not get bogged down in the Doha negotiations.

“‘We are in the planning stages,’ the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“‘The idea is to do this meeting right before the WTO ministerial,’ the official told Reuters.”

Keith Good

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