January 22, 2020

Climate Change Issues; Biofuels; Farm Bill; and Senate Committee Confirmations for USTR

Climate Issues: Sec. Vilsack, Sen. Johanns

Philip Brasher reported today at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Mike Johanns and Tom Vilsack have much in common.

“They both have Iowa roots. They were governors of neighboring states at the same time. Johanns once served as U.S. agriculture secretary, the job Vilsack now holds.

But now, the two men are trading barbs in an increasingly heated dispute over how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and control climate change.”

Mr. Brasher noted that, “Johanns, R-Neb., a native of Osage, Ia., who served as agriculture secretary during President George W. Bush’s administration, challenged Vilsack’s assertions that farmers will benefit from regulations on carbon emissions.

“Johanns said Vilsack, a Democrat, is undermining his own department by disputing an Agriculture Department study that predicts a House-passed bill would reduce U.S. production of corn, soybeans and livestock.”

Quoting Sen. Johanns from an interview, Mr. Brasher indicated that, “Johanns went on to say that Vilsack ‘is not going to win this battle by talking down his own’ employees.

“Vilsack, in response, denies trying to discredit his department’s economists and said he is disappointed with Johanns’ attack.

‘You can have differences about climate change without being personal about it,’ Vilsack said. ‘It’s not the Mike I know.’”

The Register article added that, “Johanns isn’t the only senator Vilsack has yet to win over, however, and some of them are Democrats. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., also has raised concerns about the legislation, as has the new chairman of the Senate agriculture committee, Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln.

Opponents of the bill welcome Johanns’ attack on it. As a former secretary, he ‘is in a unique position to call into question some of what has been said in terms of the benefits to agriculture,’ said Mark Maslyn, executive director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, which opposes the legislation.

“But a backer of the bill in Johanns’ home state, Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen, said predictions that the legislation will result in large conversions of cropland to forests are ‘lacking in economic sense.’”

Climate Issues: EPA Endangerment Finding

Ian Talley reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The Obama administration may be forced to delay new greenhouse-gas regulations for a year under a Senate Republican proposal that the Democratic leadership has agreed to allow a vote on in early 2010.

As part of a deal on a bill to increase the nation’s debt limit, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) will allow the GOP to submit a controversial amendment to temporarily suspend new emissions regulation. The agreement was reached late Tuesday.

“While it’s unclear whether the proposal will become law, it could be an early show of how many Democrats support the administration’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.”

The article explained that, “The Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has triggered the process of regulating greenhouse gases across industries through the Clean Air Act by declaring such emissions a public danger. Business groups, lawyers, legislators and industry analysts say regulating such emissions as carbon dioxide under the law could cripple the economy.

“EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy said the agency is ‘highly respectful of Congress’ role and will continue to work with members of both Houses as they approach this issue.

“While the EPA hadn’t seen the amendment, Ms. Andy said, ‘as this process moves forward it is important not to lose sight of what led to where we are today.’ In particular, she noted the EPA’s actions follow a Supreme Court order to determine whether greenhouse gases are a public danger and are within the mandate of Congressionally-prescribed statutes.”

Climate Issues: Copenhagen

The AP reported yesterday that, “President Barack Obama says the public is justified in its disappointment with the outcome of the United Nations climate change summit.

“Despite statements from his advisers proclaiming the summit’s nonbinding agreement a great step forward, Obama says it didn’t take the steps necessary to combat the effects of climate change.

“The accord Obama helped broker last week urges major polluters to make deeper emissions cuts but does not require them to do so. Still, despite its shortcomings, Obama says the agreement was better than doing nothing.”

Bloomberg writer Mathew Carr reported yesterday that, “Nations may miss the first deadline in the Copenhagen Accord, a Jan. 31 requirement to specify 2020 emission targets and other actions to curb greenhouse gases.

“There is a 30 percent chance that countries will be ready by the end of next month to publish steps for carbon dioxide reductions in the coming decade, Emmanuel Fages, a Paris-based analyst at Orbeo, said in an interview. Orbeo is Societe Generale SA’s carbon-trading venture with Rhodia SA.”

The Bloomberg article added that, “The Copenhagen deal, struck at the close of a two-week United Nations summit in the Danish capital, has been criticized by environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth and carbon traders including Barclays Capital because it didn’t set binding targets. While 194 countries including the U.S., China and India agreed on Dec. 19 to ‘take note’ of the agreement, they were given until Jan. 31 to list actions and targets. Meeting the deadline would show nations are serious about tackling climate change, Fages said.

“‘This is a test,’ he said. ‘If countries are really going to do something, they should be able to show it now.’”


Dan Piller reported yesterday at The Green Fields Blog (The Des Moines Register) that, “Iowa State University Extension’s monthly survey of ethanol costs and returns, based on averages, shows that in November a gallon of ethanol produced a 45 cents profit, up from a 24 cent per gallon profit in October.”

And Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “EPA has written final rules that expand the national biofuels mandate and sent them to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review on Tuesday.

“The agency is implementing a 2007 law requiring that 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other alternatives to gasoline and diesel are used in the nation’s fuel mix by 2022.

“But the upcoming rules are controversial and face changes before the ink is dry.”

Yesterday’s update pointed out that, “EPA, as mandated by a major 2007 energy law, is weighing the ‘lifecycle’ greenhouse gas emissions of various types of fuels to determine whether they’re eligible under the standard. 

“The ethanol industry is lobbying furiously to prevent the agency from considering something called ‘international indirect land use changes’ when making these calculations. This refers to emissions from, say, forest clearing for cropland in other countries spurred by increasing use of U.S. corn and soybeans for making fuels.

The industry argues such calculations are shoddy and unfair, claiming the science behind them is too immature for use in federal rules. But environmentalists say the science is robust enough and that if such emissions are not weighed, the national biofuels policy will actually worsen climate change.”

Farm Bill

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton noted his blog yesterday that, “The White House Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday released the rules for the permanent disaster program, the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments program, or SURE, back to USDA. DTN/The Progressive Farmer received a copy of the final SURE rule that USDA is expected to post in the Federal Register on Monday.

“Here are a few of the details from the expected Federal Register posting, and just a few details because the details are nearly 80 pages long.”

The DTN update indicated, in part, that, “First, to collect a SURE payment, farmers must have a qualifying loss, including at least a 10 percent lost of one crop of economic assistance due to disaster on either:

“A farm in or contiguous to county declared a disaster by the secretary of agriculture,

“Or a farm anywhere with a loss of at least 50 percent of normal production — expected revenue for all crops on the farm, due to a disaster.

“A crop of economic significance is one with at least 5 percent of total expected revenue for all crops on the farm.

“Farmers must also have purchased crop insurance for their economically significant crops. ‘Producers who do not purchase required crop coverage are not eligible for benefits unless an exception applies,’ the Federal Register notice states. There are exceptions for socially disadvantaged or beginning farmers. In 2008, USDA also allowed a buy-in fee to meet the insurance requirements.”

Additional details were also noted in yesterday’s update.

Senate Committee Confirmations for USTR

Reuters writer Doug Palmer reported yesterday that, “The Senate Finance Committee gave its support on Wednesday to President Barack Obama’s nominees for two key trade positions.

“The panel voted unanimously in favor of Michael Punke to be U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization with the rank of deputy trade representative and for Isi Siddiqui to be chief U.S. agriculture negotiator.

The full Senate is expected to take up the nominations in January. Both Punke and Siddiqui are slated to play important roles in the long-running Doha round of world trade talks if confirmed by the Senate.”

The Reuters article noted that, “Siddiqui, a former agriculture official during the Clinton era, won strong support from mainstream farm organizations that say he understands the detailed technical issues that often block U.S. farm exports.

“But groups representing small farmers and environmental groups have complained Siddiqui is too closely tied to large chemical companies. Since 2001, he has been a vice president at CropLife America, which represents BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, du Pont Co, Monsanto Co and Syngenta.

“Siddiqui has pledged to refrain from matters involving CropLife for two years, but the environmental groups have urged the Senate to reject his appointment.”

Meanwhile, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Tuesday reassigned Michael Michener, the administrator of the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, as his special representative at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations agencies in Rome.

Michener announced his change of jobs in an email to the FAS staff. He said his last day in the office will be Dec. 31 and that John Brewer, his deputy and the FAS general sales manager who is in charge of marketing U.S. agricultural products overseas, will become acting administrator on Jan. 1.

“Michener, an Iowan who had previously worked for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, had been a foreign affairs adviser on Vilsack’s short-lived 2008 presidential campaign. Vilsack selected him to head FAS, which has offices in about 100 countries overseas. The position does not require Senate confirmation.”

Keith Good

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