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Climate Issues; Rural Economy; Nutrition Programs; Crop Insurance; Biofuels; Trade; and Political Notes

Climate Issues: Senate Perspectives

Jessica Leber and Christa Marshall of ClimateWire reported on Friday at The New York Times Online that, “Climate chaos reigned on Capitol Hill yesterday as senators battled over the possibility of U.S. EPA regulations on greenhouse gases and the prospects for global warming legislation this year.

Republicans and Democrats alike expressed interest in a ‘Plan B’ approach from Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) for capping emissions. The plan would return the majority of the revenue raised from a climate program to consumers through a dividend.”

(With respect to the Cantwell-Collins plan, Jonathan Capehart explained at the Post Partisan Blog (The Washington Post) on Friday that, “In short, [the Cantwell-Collins plan] would establish a cap-and-rebate system. A declining cap on greenhouse gas emissions would be set. Pollution permits would be auctioned to industry. And 75 percent of the proceeds would be rebated to the American people through monthly checks on an equal per capita basis. That could mean $1,000 returned to a family of four over the course of a year.”)

Leber and Marshall added in the ClimateWire article that, “Other moderate lawmakers said the chances for enactment of any bill, regardless of its structure, were either nil or completely unpredictable in light of the election this week of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

“‘It’s completely unclear’ whether a bill has a chance to pass this year, said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.”

However, Evan Lehmann of ClimateWire reported on Thursday at The New York Times online that, “[GOP Senator-elect Scott Brown] who won a special election Tuesday was not heavily involved in Massachusetts issues related to renewable power, energy efficiency, greenhouse gases or other high-profile energy topics as part of a state Legislature that passed a major global warming bill in 2008, several sources said.

“Brown’s victory for the U.S. Senate seat left empty by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy means Democrats no longer hold a fillibuster-proof majority. It also has opened fresh questions about the future of climate legislation. But analysts say Brown is something of a mystery on climate matters, and those looking for insight based on his Massachusetts past may find mixed assessments.”

The New York Times editorial board observed yesterday that, “The conventional wisdom is that the chances of Congress passing a bill that puts both a cap and a price on greenhouse gases are somewhere between terrible and nil. President Obama can start to prove the conventional wisdom wrong by making a full-throated case for a climate bill in his State of the Union speech this week.

“Washington has been forecasting the likely death of a climate bill with renewed certainty since Massachusetts elected a Republican senator who promised to block pretty much anything Mr. Obama wants. But even before then we were hearing two reasons why a bill could not pass: The Senate won’t have any strength left when it finishes with health care, and the nation cannot afford a bill that implies an increase in energy prices.

The first reason is defeatist, the second greatly exaggerated. The climate change bills pending in the Senate would not begin to bite for several years, when the recession should be over. The cost to households, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would be small. A good program would create more jobs than it cost.”

Washington Post writer Juliet Eilperin reported on Friday a the Post Carbon Blog that, “Some people might think climate legislation in the Senate is on life support, but don’t tell that to Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn).

“The three lawmakers met with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel Thursday afternoon for ‘a strategy session and to discuss the president’s remarks at the State of the Union,’ in the words of one Senate aide familiar with the meeting. Graham also delivered his assessment of where members of the GOP stood on the prospect of a bill.

What President Obama says next week at the State of the Union will provide the clearest signal yet of whether he will push personally for a comprehensive energy and climate bill.”

Ms. Eilperin explained that, “And the three senators agreed to set aside four hours a week–which could translate into as many as eight separate meetings–to meet as a group with central players in the climate debate, and to recruit new Senate supporters. Next week the three will meet with Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the author of a competing climate bill.”

Meanwhile, Ed O’Keefe reported on Friday at the Federal Eye Blog (The Washington Post) that, “The White House will need to foster a more bipartisan atmosphere than it did on health-care reform if it wants to get serious about climate change and energy reform, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday.

“There’s ‘a possibility that you can do something’ on climate change and energy, he said, but seemed to suggest — if only through his body language — that all hope is lost amid the collapsing health care talks.

“‘These are complicated issues and I don’t think anybody knows how this will unfold in the weeks and months ahead,’ he said during an hour long conversation with The Washington Post editorial board.”

Dow Jones writer Mark Peters reported on Friday that, “Exelon Corp. (EXC) Chairman and Chief Executive John Rowe said Friday that climate change legislation is in serious trouble in the U.S. Senate, but sees limits on carbon dioxide emissions eventually being put in place.

“Rowe during a conference call with investors sees the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepping in and taking action on greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate challenge if the Senate fails to act.”

And, Ben Geman reported on Friday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “Sixteen states are asking a federal court for permission to intervene in industry litigation challenging EPA’s recent ‘endangerment finding’ that greenhouse gases threaten human health.

“Last month the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, coal giant Massey Energy and others challenged EPA’s finding in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The endangerment finding is a precursor to planned EPA emissions rules.

The states, however, support emissions limits and asked the court Friday to grant them formal intervener status in the case on EPA’s side.”

Climate Issues: International Developments

Bloomberg writer Gaurav Singh reported today that, “China, Brazil, South Africa and India will disclose the voluntary steps the countries will take to help reduce global warming by the Jan. 31 deadline set during negotiations in Copenhagen, India’s environment minister said after talks between the four nations in New Delhi yesterday.

“The four will communicate their plans to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by the deadline this weekend, Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, said. He added the countries will work to build support for the global climate accord agreed in December.”

And the AP reported yesterday that, “Brazil, China, India and South Africa called Sunday for developed countries to quickly begin handing over the $10 billion pledged in Copenhagen to poor countries to help them deal with the effects of climate change.

“The first funds should go to the least developed countries, including small island states and African countries, said Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate change negotiator after a meeting of the representatives of the four nations in New Delhi.”

In a separate development on the climate issue, Rama Lakshmi reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that, “For many Indians, the most powerful and urgent reason to battle global warming arose from a report warning that the Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035.

But that prediction was an error, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which authored the report, said Wednesday.

“Speaking publicly on the issue for the first time Saturday, Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning panel, said the mistake occurred because rigorous procedures for scientific review were not followed. He promised a more robust research system in the future.”

The Post article noted that, “Admission of the mistake comes weeks after the release of e-mails apparently stolen from the panel’s scientists ahead of the global climate summit in Copenhagen in December. The e-mails hinted at a deliberate suppression of data from researchers with opposing views. Critics say the flawed report is further proof that climate change concerns are overblown.”

Climate Issues: Jobs & Economy- a Higher Legislative Priority?

Glenn Thrush, Jake Sherman and Lisa Lerer reported on Friday at Politico that, “Hill Democrats are demanding that Obama’s brain trust — especially senior adviser David Axelrod and chief of staff Rahm Emanuelshelve their grand legislative ambitions to focus on the economic issues that will determine the fates of shaky Democratic majorities in both houses.”

Friday’s article stated that, “‘What happened was they got so caught up in all these other issues like health care and cap and trade and all this other stuff, that because of that they maybe didn’t put enough focus on the economy,’ said Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, a moderate who represents a conservative, rural district hard-hit by the economic crisis.”

Alexander Bolton reported on Friday at The Hill Online that, “President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats are turning their attention to jobs and the economy while healthcare reform is frozen on Capitol Hill.

“Obama flew to Cleveland on Friday morning to visit manufacturing plants and stress that his administration is focused on creating jobs.”

The AP reported yesterday that, “President Barack Obama’s chief political adviser said Sunday the president will focus on job-creating plans in his State of the Union address Wednesday night.”

Walter Alarkon and Ian Swanson reported on Saturday at The Hill Online that, “Democrats in Congress want President Barack Obama to focus on the economy in his pivotal State of the Union address next week.

“After a stunning Senate loss in Massachusetts that has put healthcare reform legislation in doubt, Democrats on Capitol Hill said Obama has to go back to basics in his speech. That means talking about creating jobs, dealing with Wall Street and reining in deficits.”

Rural Economy

A CongressDaily item from Friday that was posted at Government Executive Online, indicated that, “In a signal that the Obama Cabinet is turning its focus toward jobs, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday told the U.S. Conference of Mayors the economic stimulus package is a jobs generator and expanded on the theme in comments afterward, saying he will be ‘happy to talk to people about it’ on the campaign trail this fall.”

With respect to the Rural economy, the AP reported on Friday that, “A new survey of rural bankers in 11 Midwest and Plains states shows that the region’s economy remains weak but not enough to dampen bankers’ optimism for an economic rally.

“The overall index for the Rural Mainstreet economic report released late Thursday inched up in January, to 41 from 40.9 in December. That’s the fifth straight month the index has increased, but organizers say the figure indicates significant economic weakness.”

Nutrition Programs

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported on Friday that, “U.S. child nutrition programs need at least $1 billion a year in new funding as a step toward elimination of childhood hunger by 2015, an anti-hunger coalition said on Friday.

“Congress delayed a renewal of the nutrition programs until this year because it could not find the additional money last year. The programs, centered around school lunch programs, were given $24 billion this fiscal year.”

Mr. Abbott noted that, “Backers say more money is needed because of the surge in food prices in 2007 and 2008, higher enrollment due to the recession and the cost of putting fresher and healthier foods into school meals.

“‘This is enough of a priority that it requires additional resources to expand access to the program so that every youngster that qualifies gets the benefits of the program,’ said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to USDA’s radio news service.

“Vilsack said Congress would be asked to set higher standards for snacks and beverages sold in school vending machines.”

Crop Insurance

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “Crop insurers this week proposed to take a $100-million-per-year cut in subsidies, much less than the $800 million USDA’s Risk Management Agency is believed to want as part of a renegotiation of the five-year standard reinsurance agreement, the contract under which 15 crop-insurance companies operate.”

Mr. Hagstrom explained that, “National Crop Insurance Services President Robert Parkerson, who represents the companies in the negotiations, said in an interview Thursday that RMA’s initial offer had shocked the industry, but that he had delivered the industry’s return offer at a meeting Wednesday. Negotiations are proceeding in good faith, and the companies do not plan, at least at this point, to ask Congress to address the matter legislatively, Parkerson said.

“RMA officials declined Thursday to comment directly on the industry offer, but a spokesman for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, ‘As with any negotiation, there is a period of give and take. And when these negotiations are complete, we believe there will be a stronger, more balanced federal crop insurance program to help sustain the long-term success of the program.’”

The DTN article stated that, “RMA officials contend that companies have made unusually large amounts of money in recent years and can take a cut in subsidies and still make a substantial profit. The companies acknowledge that they will have to take a cut, but contend that the reductions RMA has proposed would result in a lower level of service to farmers.

“RMA made an initial proposal to the companies on Dec. 4, and National Crop Insurance Services, Inc., a group representing the companies, delivered a response on Wednesday.”

Friday’s article pointed out that, “While RMA had proposed a 40-percent cut in underwriting gains, the crop insurance industry term for profits, in the Corn Belt states, the companies proposed a 20-percent cut. The Corn Belt states of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota are the most profitable for the insurance companies because they have good growing conditions and a smaller risk of a weather-related disaster.

“RMA said the government would take a higher level of risk in the Corn Belt states, but the companies said in their response that they prefer to continue to take their current level of risk. RMA, which wants to improve insurance coverage in the other 45 states, proposed putting those states into three groups based on risk, but the industry said those states should be put into one group.”

Biofuels

John Vidal reported on Friday at the Guardian Online that, “One-quarter of all the maize and other grain crops grown in the US now ends up as biofuel in cars rather than being used to feed people [related graph], according to new analysis which suggests that the biofuel revolution launched by former President George Bush in 2007 is impacting on world food supplies.”

The article noted that, “But ethanol producers deny that their record production means less food. ‘Continued innovation in ethanol production and agricultural technology means that we don’t have to make a false choice between food and fuel. We can more than meet the demand for food and livestock feed while reducing our dependence on foreign oil through the production of homegrown renewable ethanol,’ said Tom Buis, the chief executive of industry group Growth Energy.”

Trade

Reuters writer Aleksandras Budrys reported on Thursday that, “Russian chicken importers have begun seeking alternative suppliers, including Thailand, as talks with U.S. experts ground to a halt on Thursday without a commitment to reopen Washington’s biggest export market.”

Meanwhile, a recent update posted at the WTO Online regarding agricultural negotiations at the world body stated in part that, “The first agriculture negotiations sessions of the year on 21 and 22 January 2010 saw further discussions of technical work, as delegates prepared to take up more substantive issues 10 days later.”

The WTO update added that, “The 21 and 22 January sessions saw presentations from Australia and Canada on domestic support and from the US on market access. Rep of Korea, Argentina and Uruguay also introduced new papers on this highly technical exercise.

“The work on data and templates is intended to be neutral, ie, it does not affect how much more market access countries will give, and the subsidies they will cut.”

Political Notes

Josh Kraushaar reported on Saturday at Politico that, “Since Republican Scott Brown shocked the political establishment and picked up Sen. Ted Kennedy’s old seat, a slew of other leading Republican recruits across the country are having second thoughts about running for Congress.

The latest is Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.), the only Republican represented in Arkansas’ six-seat House and Senate delegation. Hotline on Call first reported that Boozman has been actively exploring the possibility of challenging Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and has been calling other candidates in the race to see if they would drop out if he ran.”

And Charlie Frago reported yesterday at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette Online that, “Democratic Congressman Marion Berry will announce his retirement on Monday, according to two unidentified sources close to the seven-term congressman.”

The article stated that, “Last week, Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, also a Democrat, announced his retirement after seven terms. And Republican Congressman John Boozman of Rogers has strongly indicated that he will challenge Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln.”

Keith Good