FarmPolicy

August 21, 2019

Climate Legislation; Farm Bill- Executive Branch Issues; Biofuels; Food Labeling; Food Security; and Milk Production

Climate Legislation

Darren Samuelsohn of ClimateWire reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “The fence is getting a bit more crowded.

“Despite two significant moves over the last month — a bill introduction and the emergence of a possible bipartisan partnership — the number of senators unwilling to commit to voting for comprehensive climate and energy legislation continues to grow.”

The article stated that, “According to E&E’s latest analysis, 24 senators now belong in the ‘fence sitter’ category that leaves them up for grabs headed into the winter push for 60 votes that sponsors will need to overcome an expected Republican filibuster.

“Here’s the good news for climate advocates: E&E now finds that at least 67 senators are in play on the issue, enough not only to pass the climate bill but also to ratify an international treaty should sponsors actually run the boards and not lose a single member.”

Mr. Samuelsohn indicated that, “For starters, the bill’s lead sponsors, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), can safely rely on 31 ‘yes’ votes as they work on building their coalition….[A]nother 12 senators fall into the ‘probably yes’ camp.”

With respect to the GOP, yesterday’s article stated that, “In all, E&E now lists eight Republicans as ‘fence sitters’ on the climate bill, with the two from Maine — Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe — holding firm as ‘probably yes’ votes given their past efforts on the issue. Collins and Snowe are likely to compensate for the loss of Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the only Democrats listed among 11 ‘probably no’ votes given their many comments questioning the environmental agenda of the Obama administration and Senate leaders.”

Mr. Samuelson also highlighted the perspective of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln: “Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) also remains on the fence. The two-term senator said last week that she wants to get a better grip on the effect that a climate bill would have on farmers and in the cost of food to consumers.

“‘I don’t disagree with the objective, and I hope we’ll stay focused on the objective, which is to lower our greenhouse gases and emissions and our carbon output,’ Lincoln said.

“Lincoln in past years has cosponsored efforts to address the cost fluctuations in climate legislation. Environmental groups are banking on her and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) as key votes that get them to across the 60-vote threshold.”

Bloomberg writer Simon Lomax reported on Monday that, “Congress will likely act on legislation to rein in the $592 trillion over-the-counter derivatives industry before deciding whether to set up a new market for pollution rights aimed at slowing global warming, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln said.

“‘The financial regulation reform bill’s going to be moving probably faster’ than legislation to limit U.S. greenhouse gases through a ‘cap-and-trade’ system of pollution allowances that could be bought and sold, Lincoln, a Democrat from Arkansas, said in an interview.”

The Bloomberg article explained that, “Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said he couldn’t comment on whether derivatives reform legislation would be voted on before a cap-and-trade bill.

“Senate Democrats ‘still hope to be able to deal with both bills this year,’ Manley said in an e-mail.”

Meanwhile, American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman has indicated that, “Farm Bureau recently kicked off a climate change grassroots campaign appropriately titled ‘Don’t Cap Our Future.’ Farm Bureau members are getting out the word on Capitol Hill that cap-and-trade legislation would impose higher energy and food costs on consumers, raise fuel, fertilizer and energy costs for farmers and ranchers, and shrink the American agricultural sector, resulting in reduced U.S. food production.

“The consequences of climate legislation far outweigh the benefits and aren’t worth capping America’s future.”

A news release issued yesterday by the House Agriculture Committee Republicans noted that, “This week during The Ag Minute [MP3], Ranking Member Frank Lucas highlights recent newspaper reports that describe the negative impact of a cap and trade system on rural economies and small communities.”

In part, Rep. Lucas stated that, “My friends, now we need to convince Washington of what the American people already know. Now is not the time to place more burdens on hardworking Americans with a cap-and-trade system.”

Also on the climate debate, the AP reported today that, “Losing key members and facing political headwinds, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent a record $34.7 million in the third quarter lobbying against the Obama administration’s proposals to overhaul energy policy, financial regulation and health care.”

“On the question of how to address climate change, the Chamber has seen a growing number of companies defect. They say the self-proclaimed ‘voice of business’ doesn’t speak for them when it denies global warming and lobbies against climate change legislation,” the AP article said.

Amanda DeBard reported in today’s Washington Times that, “A new advocacy group seeking to expose what it says will be the high cost of climate-change legislation to consumers is spreading its message with the same tools that catapulted President Obama into office: blogs, Twitter and other new media outlets.”

The Cost of Energy Information Project (CEIP) is the latest addition to the dozens of ad hoc organizations pressing lawmakers on Capitol Hill to consider the bill’s effects before casting a vote. This group, backed by energy-producing interests, is clearly in the anti-legislation category…The group’s Web site, www.costofenergy.org, features an ‘energy cost calculator’ that estimates how much a person’s energy costs would rise if the climate bill passed by the House this past summer were enacted,” the Washington Times article said.

Concurrent with the vote counting, lobbying efforts and grassroots organizational activities on the climate issue, Andy Barr reported yesterday at Politico.com that, “For voters, the economy outpaces all other issues by a wide margin, according to a new Public Strategies Inc./POLITICO poll.

“As the nation struggles to climb out of a recession, 45 percent rated the economy as the most important issue in deciding their vote if the congressional election were held today, followed by 21 percent who said government spending, 20 percent who chose health care reform and 9 percent who said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just 4 percent ranked climate change as the top issue.”

In other developments, Reuters news reported yesterday that, “U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Tuesday threw his support behind setting a price floor and ceiling on carbon dioxide pollution permits that are part of climate control legislation pending in Congress.”

And an update posted on Monday at the Energy & Environment Blog (The National Journal) noted that, “Recent endorsements by key senators, such as John Kerry, D-Mass., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., (in their joint op-ed) and Tom Carper, D-Del., could be early signs nuclear energy is gaining traction as an indispensable part of the recently introduced Senate climate change legislation. Still, lawmakers and experts alike cite obstacles, including high construction costs and lengthy license processes, that the industry will need to overcome.”

The update included the perspectives of several knowledgeable experts on this issue.

From an international perspective on climate issues, Bloomberg news reported on Monday that, “President Barack Obama may attend the December climate summit in Copenhagen aimed at forging a new treaty to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution, U.S. envoy Todd Stern said today in London.”

John Broder reported in today’s New York Times that, “With the clock running out and deep differences unresolved, it now appears that there is little chance that international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December will produce a comprehensive and binding new treaty on global warming.

“The United States and many other major pollutant-emitting countries have concluded that it is more useful to take incremental but important steps toward a global agreement rather than to try to jam through a treaty that is either too weak to address the problem or too onerous to be ratified and enforced.”

Financial Times writer Fiona Harvey reported earlier this week that, “Developed countries are preparing to relent on their demand that developing countries agree to long-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in a concession that could form the basis of a global deal on climate change.

“The demand was one of five key elements rich countries wanted for a deal at the international climate change summit in Copenhagen in December. But major emerging economies, led by China and India, refused to sign up to it, worrying it could be used to force large and so far unquantified emission cuts on them in the future.

Governments on both sides of the Atlantic are now softening their call for a global target of halving emissions by 2050, in an attempt to build a consensus around a less ambitious deal in Copenhagen.”

And Sunil Raghu reported today at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “India and China Wednesday signed an initial pact on climate change in the run-up to the global talks in Copenhagen.

“Under the five-year pact, the two countries have agreed to set up a working group on climate change that would exchange views on issues concerning international negotiations on climate change.”

Alessandro Torello reported today at the WSJ Online that, “European Union finance ministers failed to agree on how to fund the fight against climate change, passing the issue to EU leaders, who will meet later this month.”

Farm Bill- Executive Branch Issues

Marcia Zarley Talyor reported yesterday at DTN that, “First-year signup for the Average Crop Revenue Election Program (ACRE) attracted about 8 percent of the total eligible farms and 13 percent of eligible base acres, but popularity of the program varied widely among commodities and farming regions, a Farm Service Agency report showed Tuesday.

“The final count was far below what economists and federal budget officials had initially anticipated when the farm bill was debated in 2008, but a respectable showing given administrative delays and the complexities of communicating the farm program option, some observers said. Based on crop conditions and prices at the time of signup Aug. 14, some economists had projected 2009 ACRE payments worth as much as $75 per corn acre in Illinois, but nothing in some states or crops.”

Meanwhile, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan credited Congress with providing the initial impetus for the Obama administration’s ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative and said the program will ultimately benefit all farmers much more than critics think.

“Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack launched the initiative in mid September, urging consumers to ‘know where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate.’ He also said the initiative would use USDA’s existing programs to help produce food and wealth that stays in local communities.”

Mr. Hagstrom also noted that, “Some big farm lobbyists have privately dismissed Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food as a somewhat silly administration appeal to rich, liberal consumers known as ‘foodies’ and to the nation’s smallest farmers, who were more likely to have voted for Obama.”

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (The Des Moines Register) that, “It really is a new day at USDA. Just check out the focus and main speakers announced today for the 2010 Agricultural Outlook Forum, held every February in Arlington, Va.

“The forum will be titled ‘Sustainable Agriculture: The Key to Health and Prosperity.’ Vilsack will deliver the keynote, as is typical. But the conference also will feature a panel, titled ‘Sustainability and Stakeholders: Achieving a Healthier 21st Century,’ with the co-president of Whole Foods Market Inc., the CEO of Bon Appetit Management Co. and the recently retired CEO of Sysco Corp.”

In other news developments regarding the executive branch, Stewart Doan, the Senior Editor at Agri-Pulse, recently interviewed Rep. Marion Berry (D-Arkansas) as part of the Agri-Pulse Open Mic series.

The full interview, which covered a variety of agricultural and rural issues, is available here. A very interesting excerpt, in which Rep. Berry offers some of his thoughts on executive branch perspective on farm policy- in a direct and straightforward manner- can be heard here (MP3-3:29).

In a separate DTN article from yesterday, Jerry Hagstrom reported (link requires subscription) that, “Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan plans to continue managing the USDA budget even though a reorganization has placed the USDA’s budget office under an assistant agriculture secretary.

“‘I will be running the budget process at USDA,’ Merrigan said in an interview.

“Under the reorganization, the budget office is under the purview of Assistant Secretary for Administration Pearlie Reed. Since the change went into effect Oct. 1, farm lobbyists have expressed alarm that if an official below the level of deputy secretary made the presentations USDA would be in a disadvantaged position compared with other departments. One former USDA official said White House Office of Management and Budget officials always ask how they can cut farm subsidies, particularly cotton subsidies, and that only a deputy secretary or the secretary himself would be able to defend them against budget officials looking for programs to cut.”

Biofuels

A news release issued yesterday by Growth Energy noted in part that, “A recently-released study by the National Academy of Sciences examining the hidden health costs of energy concluded that corn ethanol produced fewer health threats than electric cars dependent on fossil fuel-fired power plants, and that second-generation ethanol produced dramatically lower health threats than almost any other transportation fuel.

“Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, released the following statement today:

“‘Apples to apples, ethanol proves itself the best alternative to both gasoline and electric-driven vehicles, considering the greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuels such as crude oil, or in the case of plug-in cars, coal. What may surprise some is the report’s conclusion that electric vehicles showed higher rates of damage than corn ethanol both because electricity-generation depends on fossil fuels and because of the cost and energy put into creating the battery.’”

Erica Gies reported in today’s New York Times that, “Woody biomass provides just 0.94 percent of all U.S. energy now, supplying the equivalent of 3.5 million American homes. But Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association, a group in Portland, Maine, that represents about 80 plant-burning incinerators in 16 states, says available raw material would allow the industry to double its output. New incinerators are already being planned in many states.

“The idea of homegrown, renewable energy, is appealing. It would qualify for tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and could benefit from support for renewables in the climate bill now going through the Senate.

But many environmentalists are worried. Some, like Chris Matera, founder of Massachusetts Forest Watch, warn that biomass incineration could cause major environmental damage, including the clear cutting of forests and the use of vast quantities of water for cooling. They also say that its combustion emissions are worse than coal’s — a serious charge because in both House and Senate versions of the climate bill, the technology falls into a ‘biomass loophole.’ Categorized as a renewable energy source, biomass would be exonerated from emission caps.”

Food Labeling

Lyndsey Layton reported in today’s Washington Post that, “The federal government is wading into the supermarket aisle, making its first effort to provide better nutritional information on food products since it developed the black-and-white Nutrition Facts label 15 years ago.

“Margaret A. Hamburg, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said Tuesday that shoppers are bombarded by slogans (‘Heart Healthy,’ ‘Good for You,’ ‘A Better Choice’) on products and that the government needs to set standards and knock down spurious claims.”

Today’s Post article noted that, “The FDA grew particularly concerned in late August, when a consortium of major foodmakers, including ConAgra Foods, Kellogg’s and Unilever, rolled out their Smart Choices Program. The system, ‘designed to help shoppers easily identify smarter food and beverage choices,’ raised eyebrows when the green check-mark label appeared on Cocoa Krispies, Froot Loops and other foods that are not typically noted for their nutritional value.”

Food Security

A news release issued yesterday by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that, “Faced with rising world hunger and unacceptable poverty and in response to calls for greater coherence and coordination, members of the FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) have agreed on a wide-ranging reform, FAO announced today.

“The reform aims to make CFS the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform dealing with food security and nutrition and to be a central component in the evolving Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition.

“The CFS reforms are designed to focus the Committee’s vision and role on the global coordination of efforts to eliminate hunger and ensure food security for all. This includes supporting national anti-hunger plans and initiatives; ensuring that all relevant voices are heard in the policy debate on food and agriculture; strengthening linkages at regional, national and local levels; and basing decisions on scientific evidence and state of the art knowledge.”

Milk Production

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service indicated yesterday in its Milk Production report that, “Milk production in the 23 major States during September totaled 13.9 billion pounds, down 0.7 percent from September 2008. August revised production at 14.6 billion pounds, was down 0.1 percent from August 2008. The August revision represented an increase of 23 million pounds or 0.2 percent from last month’s preliminary production estimate.

Production per cow in the 23 major States averaged 1,672 pounds for September, 22 pounds above September 2008.

The number of milk cows on farms in the 23 major States was 8.34 million head, 168,000 head less than September 2008, and 32,000 head less than August 2009.”

Keith Good

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