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Climate Change Issues; Biofuels; and Agricultural News

Climate Change Issues

Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “An aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Monday that Murkowski has not yet decided whether to offer an amendment this week that would block EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

“Senate leaders are allowing her a floor vote on climate change as part of the debate on debt ceiling legislation that the chamber takes up Wednesday, but it’s not clear if she’ll take the chance.

“Murkowski wants to prevent EPA from crafting rules that would limit emissions from stationary sources like power plants and factories. She alleges such rules would cause economic harm, but 60 votes is unlikely.”

Mr. Geman indicated that, “Murkowski is also weighing use of a blunter instrument: a ‘resolution of disapproval’ that would overturn EPA’s ‘endangerment finding’ that greenhouse gases threaten human welfare. The finding is a legal precursor to any future emissions rules.

“That plan would also stop EPA’s less controversial auto emissions rule, which the agency is crafting as part of a joint emissions and mileage standards policy with the Transportation Department. The resolution could not be filibustered, although it would face massive hurdles even if it cleared the Senate.

Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon said Monday morning that Murkowski will do something Wednesday to reveal which direction she’s heading — either introduce her amendment or take to the floor to tout the resolution of disapproval. The resolution would not be part of the debt ceiling debate.”

The New York Times editorial board noted today that, “As part of an agreement that allowed the Senate to get out of town before Christmas, Democratic leaders gave Ms. Murkowski and several other Republicans the chance to offer amendments to a must-pass bill lifting the debt ceiling. Voting on that bill begins this week. Although she has not showed her hand, Ms. Murkowski has been considering various proposals related to climate change — all mischievous.

“One would block for one year any effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. This would prevent the administration from finalizing its new and much-needed standards for cars and light trucks and prevent it from regulating greenhouse gases from stationary sources.”

The Times opinion item noted that, “Ms. Murkowski also is mulling a ‘resolution of disapproval’ that would ask the Senate to overturn the E.P.A.’s recent ‘endangerment finding’ that carbon dioxide and other global warming gases threaten human health and the environment. This finding flowed from a 2007 Supreme Court decision and is an essential precondition to any regulation governing greenhouse gases. Rescinding the finding would repudiate years of work by America’s scientists and public health experts.

“Ms. Murkowski says she’s concerned about global warming but worries even more about what she fears would be a bureaucratic nightmare if the E.P.A. were allowed to regulate greenhouse gases. She says she would prefer a broad legislative solution. So would President Obama. But unlike Ms. Murkowski, he would not unilaterally disarm the E.P.A. before Congress has passed a bill.”

Today’s editorial at the Times added that, “Knowing that the bill is not ripe, Ms. Murkowski may bring it up for a vote anyway as an amendment to the debt bill. Why? To shoot it down. The tactic would give us a ‘barometric reading’ of where the Senate stands on cap-and-trade, one Murkowski staffer said recently. What it really gives us is a reading on how little the senator — or for that matter, her party — has to offer.”

With respect to the executive branch and the prospects of climate legislation, Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “Obama kicked off his presidency with the legislative equivalent of an avalanche — complex and controversial proposals for overhauling healthcare, combating climate change, reformulating immigration policy and shifting the nation’s economic focus to advanced technology and green jobs.

The result is likely to be passage of historic healthcare legislation. But congressional Democrats are exhausted, and voters are angry at the perceived lack of attention to their most pressing problems — including joblessness.

“The president must pursue a more targeted agenda in his sophomore year, Democratic politicians and strategists said. Healthcare proved an untimely detour, and some said the White House can’t afford another one.”

Today’s article stated that, “Thinning the agenda, however, is risky. Latinos want a comprehensive immigration overhaul, a promise Obama already has delayed a year. He also has vowed to toughen regulation of the financial sector and curb global warming through a ‘cap and trade’ system that would limit greenhouse gas emissions — but would also raise energy prices.

“‘If U.S. unemployment stays at 10%, he can get three more Nobel Prizes and he’ll be a one-term president,’ said former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.). ‘The need to create jobs is the overwhelming economic and social imperative.

“‘If you’re not seeing job growth in the 300,000 to 400,000 a month range, forget cap-and-trade.’”

From an international perspective on climate issues, Bernd Radowitz reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Global climate negotiations should remain the responsibility of the United Nations, even if the Copenhagen climate summit in December didn’t provide a breakthrough, said Achim Steiner, U.N. undersecretary general and executive director of the U.N. environment program.

“‘Neither the G-20 nor the major [greenhouse-gas] emitters forum nor any other forum managed to reach any form of agreement in the run-up to Copenhagen,’ Mr. Steiner said in an interview during a meeting of European Union energy and environment ministers this weekend. ‘So I think one has to be careful to assume that another forum will deliver something that cannot be negotiated in the context of the U.N. framework convention,’ he said.

“Mr. Steiner added that countries won’t happily accept the dictate of a few nations on issues that touch their future economic and national sovereignty.”

And Bloomberg writer Gaurav Singh reported yesterday that, “India will include its offer to cut energy intensity in the Copenhagen climate change agreement by Jan. 31, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said in New Delhi today.”

In other news surrounding the climate change debate, Bloomberg writers Gaurav Singh and Jeremy van Loon reported today that, “An award-winning United Nations panel is re-examining its research about how fast Himalaya’s glaciers are melting, the top UN climate-change scientist said.

“Research by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggesting Himalayan glaciers may disappear by 2035 needs to be investigated anew following a report in the London-based Times newspaper that flawed data may have been used, said Rajendra K. Pachauri, head of the Nobel prize-winning group.

“‘We are looking at the issue and will be able to comment on the report after examining the facts. The science doesn’t change: Glaciers are melting across the globe and those in the Himalayas are no different,’ he said in a telephone interview. ‘We’re not changing anything till we make an assessment.’”

Elisabeth Rosenthal reported yesterday at The New York times Online that, “A much-publicized United Nation panel’s estimate about the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers from climate change is coming under fire as a gross exaggeration.

“The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had said in 2007, the same year it won the Nobel Prize, that it was ‘very likely’ that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2030 if current warming trends continue.

“That date has been much quoted and a cause for enormous consternation, since hundreds of millions of people in Asia rely on ice and snow melt from these glaciers for their water.”

The Times article added that, “But it now appears that the estimate about Himalayan glacial melt was based on a nearly decade-old interview of one climate scientist in a science magazine, The New Scientist, and that hard scientific evidence to support that figure is lacking. The scientist, Dr. Syed Hasnain, a glacier specialist with the government of Sikkim and currently a fellow at the TERI research institute in Delhi, studies ‘index glaciers’ and has more recently suggested that only small glaciers would disappear entirely.

“The panel is considering whether to amend the estimate or remove it. ‘We are investigating this issue and our members have been asked for further input,’ said Brenda Abrar, a spokeswoman. The panel’s reports are exhaustive compilations of climate science created through the efforts of hundreds of scientists, and no one person can make the change.”

Gautam Naik and Keith Johnson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “It was unlikely that these revelations about the IPCC report would overturn the scientific consensus on glacial retreat, but they raised questions for the IPCC about how the data on Himalayan glaciers were collected and reviewed.”

Meanwhile, in other climate related developments, Noelle Straub of Greenwire reported on Friday at The New York Times Online that, “The White House Council on Environmental Quality has found ‘no basis’ for excluding greenhouse gas emissions from National Environmental Policy Act reviews.

“Responding to inquiries from Republican lawmakers, CEQ Chairwoman Nancy Sutley said NEPA ‘cannot be used to regulate greenhouse gas emissions’ and that the Obama administration remains committed to energy and climate legislation to address those broader issues.

“‘Nonetheless, NEPA compels Federal agencies to consider environmental effects before undertaking significant actions or policies,’ Sutley wrote in a letter to the lawmakers late last month. ‘CEQ sees no basis for excluding greenhouse gas emissions from that consideration.’”

The Greenwire article explained that, “Sutley noted that her office is considering issuing draft guidance for agencies in response to a petition filed in 2008 by three groups calling for CEQ to amend NEPA regulations to address climate change. The petition was filed by the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and International Center for Technology Assessment.

“‘CEQ believes that it is appropriate and necessary to consider the impact of significant Federal actions on greenhouse gas emissions and the potential for climate change to affect Federal activities evaluated through NEPA and different approaches for managing those effects,’ Sutley wrote. ‘Accordingly, CEQ is considering responding to the petition you reference by issuing guidance to agencies on this issue.’

“Any such guidance would be first proposed in draft form and available for public comment, she wrote. Because the agency is still developing the guidance and a formal review process has not yet commenced, there is no specific time line at this point, she added.”

Biofuels

Dan Looker reported yesterday at AgricultureOnline that, “When the U.S. Senate goes back to work in Washington, [s]oybean farmers hope that it will quickly restore a biodiesel tax credit worth $1 a gallon.

Ohio Soybean Association president Jeff Wuebker estimates that failure to renew the tax credit, which expired at the end of 2009, will cost him about $12.50 an acre on his soybean crop. That’s the number he comes up with when he multiplies a 50-bushel yield by the 25-cents-a-bushel estimated increase in soybean value from its use as a feedstock for biodiesel fuel.”

The AgricultureOnline article indicated that, “Late last year the House of Representatives passed a tax bill that extended several tax credits important to businesses, including the biodiesel credit. But the Senate, caught up in the contentious health care debate and a partisan dispute over extending the estate tax, failed to act.

“So Wuebker’s state organization, the American Soybean Association and others are urging farmers to contact their senators.

“Earlier this week former Congressman Charlie Stenholm, a Texas Democrat, told reporters at the American Farm Bureau Federation meeting in Seattle that he expects the biodiesel tax credit to be renewed quickly after members of the Senate return to Washington.

“The most likely method would be an amendment to an appropriations bill, which would be in effect only this year.”

Agricultural News: Florida Freeze

Tom Sellen and Holly Henschen reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Florida farmers will sustain at least a 30% crop loss due to freezing temperatures, resulting in losses of the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to preliminary data from the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.”

Today’s article pointed out that, “Everything from fruits and vegetables to nursery plants and shrubs to tropical fish felt the effects of the freeze. Tomatoes were particularly hard hit, with about 70% of the crop in southwest Florida, a main growing region, likely wiped out, according to Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.

“For consumers, particularly on the East Coast, some products will be in short supply and prices will be higher, as crops such as citrus, tomatoes, sweet corn, bell peppers, snap beans, strawberries and squash were hurt. Businesses that rely on Florida produce may have to scramble to get products elsewhere.”

Agricultural News: Antibiotic Issues

Cliff Gauldin noted yesterday at FeedStuffs Online that, “This could be the year that the issue of curtailing the use of antibiotics in food animals receives its most serious consideration in Washington, D.C.

“‘Momentum is definitely building on the issue,’ said Dr. Jennifer Greiner, director of science and technology for the National Pork Producers Council. ‘It has the most momentum I’ve seen in recent history.’

“A bill sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.), the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, would ban farmers from using antibiotics in animals unless they are sick. It has languished through several sessions of Congress, having been introduced in various forms every year since 1999.”

The Feedstuffs item noted that, “News media coverage of the antibiotics-in-agriculture issue has seen an upswing in recent weeks. One in particular — a lengthy Associated Press report in late December — drew a strong response from the pork council.

Greiner described the report as being ‘way off base’ and filled with inaccuracies.

“‘The thing that really jumped out at me was the attempt to link farmers to having antibiotic-resistant infections, … that farmers will have a greater incidence of resistant infections,’ said Greiner.

Data from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, FDA and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, do not show such a trend, according to Greiner.

“‘We’re not seeing that those resistant infections are showing up in farmers or in the meat case,’ she said.”

Agricultural News: Trade

A news release from last week indicated that, “The American poultry industry has urged U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk to ‘fully and resolutely pursue’ a World Trade Organization (WTO) action against European Union rules that effectively block American poultry from the European market.

“‘The injustice against U.S. poultry has continued for far too long, and it is time to begin correct that injustice,’ the presidents of the National Chicken Council (NCC), National Turkey Federation (NTF), and USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) told Kirk’s agency in a letter. ‘(We) encourage USTR to fully and resolutely pursue the dispute settlement process,’ they wrote.

“The EU bans U.S. poultry that has been processed using chlorinated water, which helps control potentially pathogenic microorganisms and is considered safe and effective by U.S. authorities. The EU adopted its policy in 1997 after other barriers to U.S. poultry began to crumble under the pressure of trade liberalization. The industry estimates that the policy prevents it from developing a market in Europe worth about $240 million for chicken and $60 million for turkey and duck.”

Agricultural News: EU Developments

An update posted yesterday at EurActiv.com reported that, “Dacian Cioloş, the EU’s commissioner-designate for agriculture, pledged equal distribution of EU farm aid across the EU 27 and fair income for farmers during a three-hour confirmation hearing in the European Parliament on Friday (15 January). [A summary of the hearing is available here.] His vision for a strong post-2013 EU farm policy convinced members of the House and reassured farmers alike.”

He also said that reducing the production capacity of European agriculture is not in the interest of the EU, pledging to keep a strong and well-funded EU farm policy even after 2013,” the article noted.

Keith Good