FarmPolicy

August 21, 2019

Bill O’Conner Joins McLeod, Watkinson & Miller; Climate Issues; Trade; Disaster Payments; Biotechnology; CFTC; and Herbicide Study

Bill O’Conner Joins McLeod, Watkinson & Miller

Long time GOP staff leader of the House Agriculture Committee, Bill O’Conner, retired on March 1, after nearly 30 years of service in a variety of policy roles on both Capitol Hill and at USDA.

O’Conner, who joins the Washington law firm of McLeod, Watkinson & Miller on March 2, began working on the staff of the House Agriculture Committee in 1983 after Rep. Ed Madigan of Illinois became the Ranking Member of the Committee. Prior to joining the Agriculture Committee, O’Conner had worked as the Executive Director of the House Republican Research Committee under the chairmanship of Rep. Madigan.

During his seven years on the Agriculture Committee, O’Conner provided policy analysis and managed legislative operations for Ranking Member Madigan as the Committee developed the 1985 and 1990 Farm Bills, several disaster assistance and crop insurance bills, Farm Credit System reform bills and Commodity Exchange Act reauthorizations. He worked aggressively to enhance the bipartisan nature of the legislative process to attain greater minority influence on legislation.

In March 1991 Ed Madigan became Secretary of Agriculture and appointed O’Conner as his chief of staff, where he served through the balance of the first Bush Administration. During this executive branch service, O’Conner oversaw the multi-billion dollar administrative budget of the Department and worked intensively in negotiating the agricultural portions of the Uruguay Round of trade talks.

On February 1, 1993 O’Conner returned to the Republican House Agriculture as Policy Director under Congressman Pat Roberts of Kansas, and continued in that position under Chairman Bob Smith of Oregon. In January 1999, Chairman Larry Combest of Texas appointed him Staff Director. He continued to serve in that capacity under Chairman and then Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. During the development of the 2008 Farm Bill, O’Conner was responsible for managing minority participation in the Farm Bill conference with the Senate.

Since January of 2009, O’Conner has served under Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) as the Agriculture Policy Director on issues such as the cap and trade climate bill, food safety bill and financial regulatory reform.

Firm partner Mike McLeod said, “When Bill told me he was retiring from the Committee, I tried to change his mind, because I could not imagine the House Agriculture Committee without him. However, when I could not convince him to stay, I was very happy that he would join McLeod, Watkinson & Miller.” Firm partner Wayne Watkinson said, “There is no one on any Congressional staff that is more respected for his intellect and integrity than Bill. I believe his talents will be of great benefit to our clients.”

O’Conner is a native of Kansas. He received his undergraduate training at Wichita State University. After a tour with the Marines, he earned a master’s degree at Wichita State and went on to do doctoral work at Ohio State University.

A press release from Monday on this development from McLeod, Watkinson & Miller is available here.

Climate Issues

Reuters writer Richard Cowan reported yesterday that, “A new U.S. climate change bill could make its debut in the Senate soon in what likely would be the last big effort by Democrats to enact major environmental reforms this year.

“The House of Representatives narrowly passed a ‘cap and trade’ bill in June to bring down U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

“But that bill, and a similar one approved in November by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, did not gain broad enough support to win passage in the Senate.”

Mr. Cowan indicated that, “As a result, Democratic Senator John Kerry has been trying to come up with a compromise that could pass in this congressional election year. He’s been working with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman.

“The legislation will include national targets for reducing carbon emissions and a mechanism for pricing carbon, according to a Senate aide familiar with the talks. But public details are ‘weeks away,’ the aide said, adding, ‘a number of different ways to price carbon are on the table.’”

Yesterday’s article went on to outline “[P]ossible scenarios for how they might force significant reductions in carbon pollution and increase the use of cleaner alternative fuels. If they can attract at least 60 votes, a bill could be on the Senate floor by June,” the Reuters article said.

Ben Geman reported yesterday at the Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “While the Senate trio’s plan will differ radically from the sweeping ‘economy-wide’ House cap-and-trade bill approved last year, it likely won’t abandon cap-and-trade entirely.

“The senators’ retreat – rhetorically complete, substantively partial – follows months of attacks on cap-and-trade by Republicans, who have labeled it ‘cap and tax’ and said other unfriendly things.

“‘It’s possible,’ notes one activist, ‘that ‘cap and trade is dead’ means the phrase will not be uttered again.’”

The Hill article added that, “The senators have also been talking with Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) about their alternative approach called ‘cap and dividend,’ under which emissions allowances would be auctioned off and the bulk of the proceeds returned to consumers.”

Darren Samuelsohn of ClimateWire reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “Kerry this week is scheduled to have at least eight climate-related meetings with senators and other interest groups. Graham and Lieberman have talks lined up with critical voices from both parties in the debate, including Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

“The overall goal, Kerry’s spokeswoman Jodi Seth said, is to jump-start talks that can help pave the way toward 60 votes.

“‘Dozens of meetings and scores of decisions and negotiations still have to happen before anyone knows what a bill would look like, but every day we are making progress,’ Seth said.”

Meanwhile, in a separate update, Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “Senior House Republicans including Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) plan to roll out a resolution Tuesday that would nullify EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

“Their plan mirrors a Senate effort led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) – which may come to the floor this month – to overturn EPA’s ‘endangerment finding’ that greenhouse gases are a threat to humans.”

Mr. Geman added that, “The resolution currently has 79 cosponsors, according to Boehner’s office. It will be a so-called resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, a mid-1990s law that allows Congress to overturn federal rules but has been used successfully just once.

“The House GOP plan follows a resolution to block EPA filed last week by two senior House Democrats from conservative statesIke Skelton (D-Mo.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is planning legislation that would temporarily block EPA’s stationary source rules without nullifying EPA’s power entirely. An industry lobbyist tracking the plan said Rockefeller’s bill is expected to call a two-year timeout on the planned EPA rules, which the agency recently said it would implement more slowly than had originally been expected,” yesterday’s update said.

A related opinion item from The Wall Street Journal editorial board was published in today’s paper, “More Carbon Dissidents.”

And, in an appearance yesterday on the AgriTalk Radio Program with Mike Adams, Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) provided more specific analysis of recent actions taken by the EPA, and elaborated on the potential impact that executive branch activity could have on the agricultural sector.

To listen to a portion of the discussion regarding EPA and agriculture between Mike Adams and Rep. Moran, just click here (MP3-2:54).

Trade

An update posted yesterday at CQPolitics.com reported that, “The Obama administration’s newly released 2010 trade agenda gives little indication that the White House will quickly advance long-stalled pacts with Panama, Colombia or South Korea, despite President Obama’s increasing focus on international commerce.

“After having U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk review the Bush-era agreements throughout 2009 and drawing criticism from business groups eager for a more aggressive trade liberalization policy, Obama lately has been talking up the importance of exports.”

The CQ article noted that, “The agenda released by Kirk’s office Monday morning stressed the new export focus, and says the administration is engaged in ‘unprecedented’ consultations with Congress over the shape of impending negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership, an Asia-Pacific free trade group.

But the agenda — which Kirk will discuss at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday — is cautious when it comes to the Panama, Colombia and South Korea deals that were inked by the George W. Bush administration.”

A news release from Monday that was posted at the National Pork Producers Council Online stated that, “Pointing out that exports generate 8,000 U.S. jobs for every $1 billion of agricultural goods exported, an ad hoc coalition of food, feed and agricultural entities today urged Congress to promptly pass several pending free trade agreements.

“Trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea are awaiting congressional approval. Under each pact, many U.S. food and agricultural products would become eligible for duty-free treatment once the agreement is implemented and nearly all would receive duty-free treatment over specified phase-in periods.”

Also with respect to the USTR trade outline, Reuters news reported today that, “The United States on Monday defended its position in the eight-year-old Doha round of world trade talks, saying it could not agree to a weak deal because that would damage the World Trade Organization.

“‘We remain convinced that a Doha success can be achieved if all major economies are willing to come to the negotiating table,’ the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said in annual report outlining President Barack Obama’s trade agenda.”

In more specific ag trade developments, Reuters news reported yesterday (article posted at DTN, link requires subscription) that, “Russia and the United States could resolve their trade dispute over U.S. poultry exports on Tuesday, Russian consumer protection watchdog head Gennady Onishchenko told Interfax news agency.

“‘Our positions are getting closer together,’ the official told the agency on Monday, adding that if progress continues ‘concrete decisions’ will be reached at a meeting on Tuesday.”

Disaster Payments

Ken Anderson reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “The chair of the National Cotton Council says disaster assistance for farmers will be included in the new jobs creation bill in Congress.

“Eddie Smith says little is known about the proposal, but speculates it could look much like earlier offerings—most likely tied to a disaster declaration by the Secretary of Agriculture, with producers receiving a payment similar to a direct payment. They would have to prove an economic loss of five percent for at least one crop of economic significance.”

Agri-Pulse Senior Editor Stewart Doan filed a brief audio report yesterday that included remarks from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.); the audio report indicated that Sen. Lincoln “[t]ells Agri-Pulse she’s been assured her $1.5 billion disaster relief plan for farmers will ride on the next jobs bill.” To listen to this Agri-Pulse audio report, just click here (MP3- 1:20).

(Side Note: Chris Cillizza reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter announced Monday that he will challenge Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the state’s May primary, a decision touted by liberal Democrats as a watershed moment in attempts to demonstrate their displeasure with the way the party has conducted itself over the past year.”)

Biotechnology

Reuters writer Carey Gillam reported yesterday that, “Environmentalists filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on Monday accusing the service of illegally allowing farmers to grow genetically modified crops in a national wildlife refuge.

“The groups said up to 80 other national wildlife refuges across the United States are now growing genetically engineered crops and could be vulnerable to similar legal action.”

The article noted that, “The groups want the court to force the Fish & Wildlife Service to remove genetically engineered crops from the National Wildlife Refuge at Bombay Hook in Delaware, alleging the crops are a result of illegal cooperative farming agreements.

The groups said the service has allowed hundreds of acres to be plowed over without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act.”

A news release Monday from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization stated that, “The focus of modern and conventional biotechnologies should be redirected so as to benefit poor farmers in poor countries and not only rich farmers in rich countries, FAO said today.”

According to FAO, biotechnological innovations can be of significant assistance in doubling food production by the year 2050 and in addressing the uncertainties of climate change. ‘In the past few decades, the field of biotechnologies has advanced at a formidable speed and generated numerous innovations particularly in the field of pharmaceuticals and some in the field of agriculture,’ [Modibo Traore, FAO Assistant Director-General] said.

Commodity Futures Trading Commission Issues

Reuters writer Christopher Doering reported yesterday that, “Congress should give U.S. securities and futures regulators the authority to ensure clearinghouses are protected against conflicts of interest, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said on Monday.

“Gary Gensler outlined his vision for clearinghouses as two U.S. Senate committees work to finalize financial regulatory reform bills that will include new oversight for over-the-counter derivatives.

“‘Open governance would ensure that clearinghouses are not governed by parties that might have a conflict of interest or financial stake in particular transactions,’ Gensler said in remarks prepared for the Institute of International Bankers.”

Bloomberg writer Matthew Leising reported yesterday that, “Congressional leaders are vowing to eliminate a provision in legislation passed by the House in December that would allow banks to keep the private derivatives market opaque, protecting billions in profits on swap trades.

“Barney Frank and Collin Peterson, chairmen of the Financial Services and Agriculture Committees respectively, indicated they’ll remove a section of the bill that allows trades to be routed through systems that keep prices private, even though the legislation was touted as a way to make the transactions transparent.”

Herbicide Study

David A. Fahrenthold reported in today’s Washington Post that, “A new study has found that male frogs exposed to the herbicide atrazine — one of the most common man-made chemicals found in U.S. waters — can make a startling developmental U-turn, becoming so completely female that they can mate and lay viable eggs.

“The study, published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, seems likely to add to the attention focused on a weedkiller that is widely used on cornfields. The Environmental Protection Agency, which re-approved the use of atrazine in 2006, has already begun a new evaluation of its potential health effects.

“Its manufacturer, Swiss agri-business giant Syngenta, says research has proven that the chemical is safe for animals and for people, who could be exposed to trace amounts in drinking water.”

Keith Good

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