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Rep. Adrian Smith; Climate Issues; Farm Bill-Ag Economy; and Trade

Five GOOD Minutes- Interview with Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.)

On Friday afternoon (Feb. 26), FarmPolicy.com spoke with Nebraska GOP Congressman Adrian Smith.

Congressman Smith, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, represents Nebraska’s Third Congressional District, one of the largest agricultural districts in the country.

To listen to our discussion, which covered budget issues, crop insurance and biofuels, just click here (MP3- 5:00).

Climate Issues

Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson reported in Saturday’s Washington Post that, “Three key senators are engaged in a radical behind-the-scenes overhaul of climate legislation, preparing to jettison the broad ‘cap-and-trade’ approach that has defined the legislative debate for close to a decade.

“The sharp change of direction demonstrates the extent to which the cap-and-trade strategy — allowing facilities to buy and sell pollution credits in order to meet a national limit on greenhouse gas emissions — has become political poison. In a private meeting with several environmental leaders on Wednesday, according to participants, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), declared, ‘Cap-and-trade is dead.’

“Graham and Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) have worked for months to develop an alternative to cap-and-trade, which the House approved eight months ago. They plan to introduce legislation next month that would apply different carbon controls to individual sectors of the economy instead of setting a national target.”

The article stated that, “According to several sources familiar with the process, the lawmakers are looking at cutting the nation’s greenhouse gas output by targeting, in separate ways, three major sources of emissions: electric utilities, transportation and industry.

“Power plants would face an overall cap on emissions that would become more stringent over time; motor fuel may be subject to a carbon tax whose proceeds could help electrify the U.S. transportation sector; and industrial facilities would be exempted from a cap on emissions for several years before it is phased in. The legislation would also expand domestic oil and gas drilling offshore and would provide federal assistance for constructing nuclear power plants and carbon sequestration and storage projects at coal-fired utilities.”

The Post article noted that, “Even some moderate Republicans, seen as possible supporters of a new climate bill, remain opposed to the idea of putting a price on carbon, which Lieberman still calls ‘sine qua non,’ or an essential ingredient, of any such bill. Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), said the senator, who has opposed cap-and-trade and carbon taxes, could support pricing carbon ‘potentially at some point, but not at the moment.’”

In an opinion item published in yesterday’s New York Times, columnist Thomas L. Friedman quoted Sen. Lindsey Graham as saying, “‘Cap-and-trade as we know it is dead, but the issue of cleaning up the air and energy independence should not die — and you will never have energy independence without pricing carbon,’ Graham argues. ‘The technology doesn’t make sense until you price carbon. Nuclear power is a bet on cleaner air. Wind and solar is a bet on cleaner air. You make those bets assuming that cleaning the air will become more profitable than leaving the air dirty, and the only way it will be so is if the government puts some sticks on the table — not just carrots. The future economy of America and the jobs of the future are going to be tied to cleaning up the air, and in the process of cleaning up the air this country becomes energy independent and our national security is greatly enhanced.’”

Meanwhile, Robin Bravender of Greenwire reported on Friday at The New York Times Online that, “Two top House Democrats introduced a measure [Chairman Peterson news release; Rep. Skelton news release] yesterday aimed at blocking U.S. EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, mirroring the controversial effort launched on the Senate side by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“The measure from Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Missouri’s Ike Skelton was also co-sponsored by Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson. Their resolution aims to use the Congressional Review Act to effectively veto EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. That finding, released in December, opens the door for Clean Air Act rules aimed at slashing emissions from a broad range of sources.

The lawmakers warn that federal regulations will be unwieldy and could have crippling economic consequences.”

Friday’s article added that, “Democrats Travis Childers of Mississippi and Charlie Wilson of Ohio signed on as co-sponsors after the measure was introduced, Skelton spokesman William Chapman said.

Skelton, Peterson and Emerson introduced a separate bill earlier this month to amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit EPA from regulating greenhouse gases based on their effects on global climate change. That bill also seeks to advance several of the farm-state lawmakers’ other priorities by stopping EPA from calculating land-use changes in foreign countries for determining U.S. renewable fuels policy, and by broadening the definition of renewable biomass.

“Chapman said that bill still stands. The resolution is ‘not so much ‘instead of’ but ‘in addition to’’ that measure, he said, adding that the lawmakers sought the same outcome from both bills: to stop EPA from ‘continuing to hold a sword over Congress.’

Murkowski applauded the bipartisan resolution introduced in the House, saying that it sends a clear message that there is bipartisan, bicameral support for blocking EPA climate rules.”

The article also noted that, “Democrats in both the Senate and House have announced efforts to handcuff EPA’s regulatory authority using other avenues.

“Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) announced last week that he will introduce a more limited legislative plan that would delay EPA’s stationary source regulations for six to 12 months beyond what the agency is planning.

“And in the House, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) has introduced a bill to strip EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions unless it receives explicit authority to do so by Congress.”

Ben Geman reported on Friday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “Murkowski currently has 40 co-sponsors for her plan, including three Democrats. She may bring the resolution, which cannot be filibustered, to the floor next month [March].

“The resolutions face large hurdles clearing Congress and face a White House veto. But various Capitol Hill efforts to block EPA rules have already prompted the agency to slow down its plans.”

In other climate developments, Reuters news reported on Saturday that, “An independent board of scientists will be appointed to review the workings of the world’s top climate science panel, which has faced recriminations over inaccuracies in a 2007 report, a United Nations environmental spokesman said Friday.”

And former vice president Al Gore indicated in an opinion column published in yesterday’s New York Times that, “I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion. But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes in the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In fact, the crisis is still growing because we are continuing to dump 90 million tons of global-warming pollution every 24 hours into the atmosphere — as if it were an open sewer.”

In other environmental and agricultural developments, P.J. Huffstutter reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “Central California is home to nearly 1.6 million dairy cows and their manure — up to 192 million pounds per day. It’s a mountain of waste and a potential environmental hazard.

But for dairyman John Fiscalini, the dung on his farm is renewable gold: He’s converting it into electricity.

“At his farm outside Modesto, a torrent of water washes across the barn’s concrete floor several times a day, flushing tons of manure away from his herd of fuzzy-faced Holsteins and into nearby tanks. There, bacteria consume the waste and release methane, which is then burned in a generator capable of producing enough power to run Fiscalini’s 530-acre farm, his cheese factory and 200 additional homes.”

The article stated that, “Fiscalini’s resourcefulness should be drawing accolades, considering that state mandates are requiring California industries to boost renewable energy use and slash greenhouse gas emissions sharply over the next 10 years.

But efforts to convert cow pies into power have sparked controversy. State air quality control regulators say these ‘dairy digester’ systems can generate pollution themselves and, unless the devices are overhauled, are refusing to issue permits for them.

The standoff underscores how conflicting regulatory mandates are making it hard for California to meet its green-energy goals.”

Farm Bill- Ag Economy

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “USDA will conduct a Conservation Reserve Program general enrollment sign-up this spring for the first time since 2006, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Saturday.

“Speaking to a crowd of hunters and conservationists at the Pheasants Fest show, Vilsack drew cheers from the crowd when announcing the enrollment. The Farm Service Agency is working to complete an environmental impact statement to start the CRP enrollment that could take place in late spring or early summer, he said. The enrollment would replace as many as 4.4 million acres in contracts expected to expire in September 2010, one of the largest potential drops in acreage in the program’s history.”

The DTN article noted that, “As House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., begins hearings on a 2012 farm bill, Vilsack said this enrollment is a chance to put a spotlight on conservation programs ‘so they don’t get lost in a lot of other discussions that could take place.’”

Meanwhile, Ian Berry reported on Saturday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Early concerns about potential planting delays pushed Chicago Board of Trade corn futures to their highest price in six weeks on Friday.

“Nearby March corn futures ended up 5.75 cents, or 1.5%, to $3.78 per bushel. The contract gained 5.2% on the week.

“The market, which had been in a slump since mid-January, started the week on an up note amid what is a virtual rite of spring for corn traders: fear that the crop won’t be planted on time.”

The article noted that, “Still, talk of planting delays in February are ‘just ridiculous,’ [Joel Karlin, analyst for Western Milling] said. Some traders also point out that planting was in some cases several weeks late the past two years, which did not prevent solid, or in the case of 2009, record crops.”

On Friday, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released its monthly Agricultural Prices report.

In part, the NASS report indicated that, “The corn price, at $3.45 per bushel, is down 21 cents from last month and 42 cents below February 2009 [graph]; The soybean price, at $9.40 per bushel, decreased 39 cents from January and is 14 cents below February 2009 [graph]; The February all wheat price, at $4.67 per bushel, is down 25 cents from January and $1.12 below February 2009 [graph]; and, The February all milk price of $15.90 per cwt is 20 cents lower than last month but $4.30 higher than February 2009 [graph].”

Reuters news reported on Friday that, “U.S. daily ethanol output rose in December for the third month in a row as distillers took advantage of low prices for corn and natural gas, the Energy Information Administration said.

“Distillers made 787,870 barrels per day of the alternative motor fuel in December, the last month for which data was available. That was up from 786,400 barrels per day in November, and 740,000 bpd in October.

“‘Ethanol makers are making money again,’ said Matt Hartwig a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry group. ‘It’s become more economical for producers to make ethanol as corn prices fall.’”

And the AP reported today that, “Organic farmers fear this year’s spring breezes will be carrying pollen from genetically altered sugar beets, which they say could render their crops worthless, and they hope to persuade a federal judge this week to halt the plantings nationwide.

“Experts and industry groups say such an injunction could jeopardize U.S. sugar supplies, about half of which comes from the biotech beets planted on more than 1 million acres in 10 states stretching from Michigan to Oregon.

“‘It will be a big problem,’ if the injunction is granted, said Carol Mallory-Smith, professor of weed science at Oregon State University. ‘The industry really had converted to this.’”


The “Washington Insider” section of DTN reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “The issue of the continuing U.S. ban on Mexican trucks operating freely in this country has not been in the news much in recent months, but a group called the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) could change that.

“Earlier this week, the organization called on the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to challenge the tariffs that Mexico imposed on U.S. products in retaliation for the U.S. trucking ban. Under provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (whose three signatories are the United States, Canada and Mexico), the United States and Mexico were supposed to have begun phasing in cross-border trucking in 1995. However, Congress has blocked the provision from going forward, citing safety concerns about Mexican trucks on U.S. roads.”

“OOIDA is taking a new tack by adding homeland security and criminal activity issues to highway safety as reasons not to change the no-Mexican-truck policy. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office has not said whether it will challenge Mexico’s tariffs, but some trade analysts believe such a course is unlikely,” the DTN item said.

A news release Friday from Senate Ag Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) stated that, “[Senator Lincoln] today urged the Chinese government to reopen its market to American pork exports. China pledged five months ago to reopen its market but this commitment has yet to be honored.

“‘The pork industry has been hit hard by the downturn in the economy and keeping this market closed would only be an additional burden for pork producers already struggling from more than two years of selling their hogs at a loss. I was pleased to see the Chinese government acknowledge that the presence of the H1N1 flu virus in the United States was not a valid scientific reason to bar American pork exports and agree to reopen its market five months ago. It is time for China to follow through on this commitment,’ Lincoln said.”

And House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) was on Friday’s AgriTalk Radio Program with Mike Adams to discuss trade issues regarding the U.S. and Cuba. Recall that last week, Chairman Peterson introduced legislation to expand U.S. agriculture exports to Cuba. This bipartisan bill, H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, is co-sponsored by 30 other Members of Congress, including Representatives Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut, and Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri.

To listen to a portion of Friday’s conversation between Mike Adams and Chairman Peterson, just click here (MP3-4:15).

Dow Jones news reported on Friday that, “World Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy said Friday that completing the Doha round of global trade talks is still possible this year, though he stopped short of predicting it would get done.

“While Group of 20 leaders have pledged to come to an agreement on the long-stalled deal in 2010, Lamy said it ‘remains to be seen whether this political guidance translates into the political energy to round the last lap.’”

And a news item posted yesterday at iMarketnews reported that, “Brazil’s Trade Ministry Monday is scheduled to publish a list of trade sanctions against U.S. products, which were approved by the World Trade Organization in response to American cotton subsidies…Brazilian business groups have expressed the hope that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will bring proposals for a settlement when she arrives in Brazil Wednesday.”

Keith Good