FarmPolicy

September 23, 2019

Climate Issues; Federal Debt; Trade; and Food Safety

Climate Issues: EPA Regulation

Kim Murphy reported yesterday at the Greenspace Blog (Los Angeles Times) that, “[U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska)] staff says she is poised to act this week on a proposed amendment (download Murkowski’s amendment here) to bar the EPA in the coming year from using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide. The Alaska senator’s staff says she will either introduce the amendment on Wednesday or take a different tack and on Thursday introduce a ‘disapproval resolution’ — essentially seeking to invoke a congressional veto of the EPA’s proposed finding that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere threaten public health.

“The so-called endangerment finding, announced last April, is a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s attack on climate change.”

Ms. Murphy indicated that, “‘This isn’t about the science of climate change. The issue is, everyone agrees that EPA regulation of greenhouse gas stationary sources is going to be a bureaucratic nightmare, and really pose a serious threat to the economy,’ said Robert Dillon, communications director for the Senate energy and natural resources committee. ‘So why move forward with something that even the president has said is the worst possible solution to greenhouse gases?’”

After additional analysis, yesterday’s update stated that, “Dillon said the proposed amendment would not interfere with the Obama administration’s plan to finalize new standards for cars and light trucks, which he said could be regulated by the Department of Transportation, not the EPA. The amendment would allow Congress to move forward with climate change pace at a more rational pace, Dillon said.

“‘Congress is moving. It may not be moving at the rate the administration wants, but that’s the way it goes,’ he said. ‘Sen. Murkowski believes that EPA regulation should be taken off the table, and then we can deal with climate change.’”

Chris Clayton reported yesterday at DTN’s Ag Policy Blog that, during his weekly interview with agricultural reporters, “Grassley also was asked about the possible amendment from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that could block the EPA from moving ahead with rules regarding greenhouse-gas emissions.

“‘It can be brought up because it’s kinda like trade agreements, it’s on a fast-track process,’ said Grassley, a co-sponsor of the Murkowski language.

As a practical matter, given the GOP minority in the Senate, Grassley didn’t think there would be 51 votes for Murkowski’s amendment. Further, the proposal could have a tougher time getting passed in the House, then could possibly face a veto, Grassley said.”

Mr. Clayton pointed out that, “‘She’s doing the right thing by doing it, but I think it’s really a tough road to hoe and be successful that way,’ he said.

“Grassley said a ‘rider’ could be added to an appropriations bill to cut off EPA funding for such a rule, in much the same way Congress blocked spending money to implement country-of-origin labeling from 2003 to 2008.

Grassley added that the EPA push on greenhouse gases will continue to be slugged out in the courts with lawsuits from business, agriculture and manufacturing groups as well.”

The Washington Post editorial board also weighed in on this issue, noting in today’s paper that, “Ever since his inauguration a year ago, President Obama has tried to motivate Congress with a strong ultimatum: Pass climate-change legislation, or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will use its authority under the Clean Air Act to curb carbon emissions without your input.

Instead of accepting this as a prod toward useful action, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) apparently wants to disarm the administration. This week she is set to offer a measure, perhaps as an amendment to a bill raising the federal debt ceiling, that would, one way or another, strip the EPA of its power to regulate carbon emissions as pollutants, perhaps for a year, perhaps forever. We aren’t fans of the EPA-only route. The country would be better off if Congress established market-based, economy-wide emissions curbs. But hobbling the agency isn’t the right course, either.

If Congress fails to act, carefully administered EPA regulation of carbon emissions could ensure that America makes some real reductions, if not necessarily in an optimally efficient manner. If Congress passes climate legislation, the EPA’s role, if any, could be tailored to work with a legislated emissions-reduction regime. So removing the EPA’s authority now is at least premature. The correct response to the prospect of large-scale EPA regulation is not to waste lawmakers’ energy in a probably futile attempt to weaken the agency. Instead, the Senate should provide a better alternative.”

Meanwhile, Washington Post writer Juliet Eilperin reported yesterday at the Post Carbon Blog that, “Environmental groups are taking aim at Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) for her efforts to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases linked to climate change on its own.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “At the same time Friends of the Earth Action has made a small radio buy in Alaska and North Dakota criticizing Murkowski and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), who’s authored a similar measure on the House side.”

In addition to Sen. Murkowski and Rep. Pomeroy, Jim Snyder reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Washington’s largest business groups are discussing joint legal action to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gases.

Executives and lobbyists for more than two dozen trade groups met last Friday at the offices of Sidley Austin to discuss the possibility of cooperating in a legal challenge, including the possibility of pooling resources to hire counsel, but no consensus or definite course of action emerged.”

Mr. Snyder noted that, “Representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Public Power Association, the Edison Electric Institute and more than a dozen other groups participated in the meeting.”

Climate Issues: Massachusetts Senate Race and the Legislative Agenda- A Greater Focus on an “Energy Bill”?

Michael Cooper reported in today’s New York Times that, “Scott Brown, a little-known Republican state senator, rode an old pickup truck and a growing sense of unease among independent voters to an extraordinary upset Tuesday night when he was elected to fill the Senate seat that was long held by Edward M. Kennedy in the overwhelmingly Democratic state of Massachusetts.

“By a decisive margin, Mr. Brown defeated Martha Coakley, the state’s attorney general, who had been considered a prohibitive favorite to win just over a month ago after she easily won the Democratic primary.”

Several press reports took a closer look at the potential implications that yesterday’s Senate election could have on the Congressional agenda, focusing in part on climate change legislation.

Ian Swanson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “An early legislative victim may be climate change, though its future was in doubt before the rumblings in Massachusetts.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who two weeks ago announced his surprise retirement at the end of the year, on Tuesday predicted the Senate would not take up a climate bill this year.”

Reuters writer Tom Doggett reported yesterday that, “The Senate is unlikely to pass climate change legislation this year after going through the contentious health care debate, and will focus on a separate energy bill that has more bipartisan support, a key Democratic senator said on Tuesday.”

Yesterday’s Reuters article added that, “‘It is my assessment that we likely will not do climate change this year, but will do an energy bill instead,’ Senator Byron Dorgan, told reporters in a telephone conference call.

“Dorgan’s comments were at odds with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has said the Senate this spring would take up a climate change bill to cap and then reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming.

“Dorgan, who is in the Senate Democratic leadership, said legislation already cleared by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee would be easier to pass.”

Amy Harder noted yesterday at the National Journal’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “The Senate will probably not take up cap-and-trade legislation in 2010, retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said today. ‘In the aftermath of a very, very heavy lift on health care, it’s unlikely that the Senate will turn to a very complicated and controversial subject of cap-and-trade,’ he told reporters in a conference call.”

In his article from yesterday, The Hill’s Jim Snyder pointed out that, “Clues on how the agenda will be impacted and how political power has changed will come in Obama’s state of the union address scheduled on Jan. 27, said Jason Johnson, an associate professor of political science at Hiram College in Ohio.”

Corey Boles reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The Republican victory in Massachusetts imperils, but may not derail, the Democratic agenda in 2010, analysts and congressional aides said Tuesday.”

The Journal article stated that, “Democrats have long faced problems advancing legislation to curb emissions of greenhouse gases amid resistance from oil, coal and manufacturing interests within their own party. ‘If an economy-wide cap-and-trade bill was unlikely before, we think a Republican win in Massachusetts would put it on life support,’ wrote Whitney Stanco and William Hederman, analysts with Concept Capital, a research firm in Washington. More likely: a bill aimed at encouraging U.S. production of energy from alternative sources.”

Meanwhile, Darren Samuelsohn of GreenWire reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “‘Just the nature of the campaign and the mood right now is going to send folks who have serious concerns of going down the road of a climate bill, I think it’s going to send them running for cover anyway,’ said [Frank Maisano, a Washington-based spokesman for several major energy industry interests], who represents electric utilities, oil refineries and wind developers for the Bracewell & Giuliani law firm.

“‘There’s really already major concern in the minds of 20 to 25 Democrats as to whether this is a good approach anyway,’ Maisano added. ‘Certainly, I think the fact Massachusetts is even in play certainly puts even more power into that concern.’”

Mr. Samuelsohn reported that, “Energy policy analyst Christine Tezak sees the Massachusetts election a bit differently.

In a research note published today, Tezak said she didn’t think a Brown victory would have much of an effect on the climate bill.

“‘We have never considered this issue to rely solely on the partisan divide in the Senate,’ she said. ‘A handful of Republicans lean in favor, several Democrats oppose it. There are ‘fencesitters’ on both sides of the aisle.’”

The GreenWire article added that, “Obama’s climate agenda could even benefit, Tezak said, should Brown win and help to take down the health care bill.

“‘If the health care debate gets derailed, then the Obama administration will need to come up with other victories,’ said Tezak, a senior research analyst for Robert W. Baird & Co. ‘While it is very easy to suggest that Congress may want to throw up its hands and do nothing for the balance of the year, incumbent Democrats will need a win — not inaction — to reverse what will be hailed as a significant defeat for their agenda and prove they can govern. There may be greater pressure to salvage an energy and climate package. If health care is shelved, there would be time to address it.’”

In an in-depth look at what yesterday’s Senate election could mean for climate legislation, Reuters writer Richard Cowan noted in part that, “Republicans who oppose requiring industries to reduce carbon pollution will argue the vote was a message to President Barack Obama that one of his top priorities is out of sync with voters. Many of them will be further emboldened to oppose any comprehensive climate change bill this year.

Democrats will ramp up their rhetoric that a climate change bill will create and not lose jobs during these tough economic times. ‘This is the single best opportunity we have for energizing the economy, creating jobs and getting cleaner air, and if you sell those arguments you’ve got a winning issue,’ Senator John Kerry told Reuters on Tuesday in an e-mailed statement.”

More broadly, James Oliphant and Mark Z. Barabak reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “Brown’s epic upset signals the start of what could be an exceedingly tough year nationwide for Democrats, who are fighting to hang on to their majorities in the House and Senate in a political climate that seems to grow more hostile by the day.”

And Carla Marinucci noted yesterday at the PoliticsBlog (The San Francisco Chronicle) that, “The upset victory of Republican Scott Brown Tuesday in the Massachusetts Senate race had an immediate effect in California, where GOP U.S. Senate Republican candidates wasted no time going on offense — vowing that Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer is on tap next.”

However, Martin Kady II reported yesterday at Politico that, “Boisterous Republicans and down-in the-dumps Democrats are already riffing on the death of the Democratic agenda with the election of a 41st Republican senator.

But it may be too soon to write that obituary.

“While Scott Brown’s victory could have a catastrophic effect on health care reform, other parts of the Democratic agenda may survive the loss of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. Democrats’ six month reign with a 60-vote super-majority is over, but a smattering of Republicans may be willing to play ball on their own pet issues, giving the president’s party at least a theoretical shot at passing some form of financial reform, an energy bill – without cap-and-trade – and a watered-down deficit-reduction package.”

Bloomberg writers James Rowley and Julianna Goldman reported today that, “‘Normally, a junior senator winning doesn’t have a great effect,’ said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program. Brown’s victory will ‘dramatically alter President Obama’s domestic agenda for the rest of his term, or at least through 2010.’”

The Bloomberg article noted that, “‘If we are not successful in establishing job growth and economic growth soundly we will not achieve any of our other objectives,’ National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers told reporters last week. ‘Priority number one has to be assuring rapid job growth.’”

Federal Debt

Lori Montgomery reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Faced with growing alarm over the nation’s soaring debt, the White House and congressional Democrats tentatively agreed Tuesday to create an independent budget commission and to put its recommendations for fiscal solvency to a vote in Congress by the end of this year.

“Under the agreement, President Obama would issue an executive order to create an 18-member panel that would be granted broad authority to propose changes in the tax code and in the massive federal entitlement programs — including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — that threaten to drive the nation’s debt to levels not seen since World War II.

“The accord comes a week before Obama is scheduled to deliver his first State of the Union address to a nation increasingly concerned about his stewardship of the economy and the federal budget. After a year in which he advocated spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a huge economic stimulus package and a far-reaching overhaul of the health-care system, Obama has pledged to redouble his effort to rein in record budget deficits even as he has come under withering Republican attack.”

The Post article explained that, “Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who has long advocated creation of an independent budget panel, called the agreement an ‘understanding in concept’ that holds the promise of at last addressing the nation’s most wrenching budget problems.

“‘This goes to the question of the country’s credibility with managing its own finances. This is essential for the nation,’ Conrad said.

“The commission is likely to form the centerpiece of Democrats’ efforts to reduce projected budget deficits, which have soared into record territory in the aftermath of the worst recession in a generation. Government spending to bail out the troubled financial sector and to stimulate economic activity have combined with sagging tax collections to push last year’s budget deficit to a record $1.4 trillion. The budget gap is projected to be just as large this year and to hover close to $1 trillion a year for much of the next decade.”

Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Meeting Tuesday night at the White House, Vice President Joe Biden, White House budget director Peter Orszag and Democratic leaders agreed the commission would report back at the end of 2010 with a path to bring this year’s projected $1.4 trillion deficit from about 10% of gross domestic product to 3% by 2015.”

Walter Alarkon reported today at The Hill Online that, “The deal would pave the way for Congress to pass an increase in the $12.4 trillion debt ceiling, which is necessary to allow the government to borrow money past mid-February. The Senate plans to begin debate on the debt ceiling increase Wednesday.

White House aides and centrist Democrats have said that reduction of the deficit, which hit a record $1.4 trillion in 2009, will be a priority this year.”

Trade

Michael Schwirtz reported in today’s New York Times that, “Of all the disputes great and petty that have marred relations between Russia and the United States over the years, chicken has provoked more than its share of angst and animosity. The United States under the first Bush administration flooded Russia with American chicken as food aid in the early 1990s, products that Russians came to call ‘Bush legs.’

“These stocks — mostly thighs and other parts, not many drumsticks — helped feed hungry Russians reeling from an economic collapse. They also came to symbolize the humiliation of a once-great nation reduced to dependence on food handouts.

“The Russian government has spent over a decade seeking to do away with this lingering vestige of post-Soviet misery. In the latest attempt, the government imposed an open-ended ban on American chicken imports that started Tuesday, ostensibly because United States companies had failed to adhere to new food safety regulations.”

Today’s article noted that, “Representatives from both countries began talks on Tuesday in Moscow in an attempt to resolve the dispute, though neither side seemed prepared to make concessions.”

Food Safety

Elizabeth Weise reported recently at USAToday Online that, “Calls from consumer advocates and politicians are growing louder for the Obama administration to name an undersecretary for food safety at the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, a position unfilled for more than a year.

“It’s a job with little glory but a lot of responsibility: keeping the meat, poultry, catfish and some eggs America eats safe by overseeing 9,000 inspectors who visit 7,000 slaughter and processing plants daily. The agency needs to overhaul its methods and set tough new standards for testing, consumer advocates say.”

The article noted that, “Last year alone, food-borne illnesses caused 5,000 deaths, and the FSIS forced 59 recalls of suspect food, says Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. ‘It is essential that we include food safety on the list of the critical issues that need to be addressed, and that means appointing an undersecretary as soon as possible,’ DeLauro says.”

Keith Good

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