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Climate Change Issues; Trade; Biofuels; Crop Insurance; Food Safety; and Animal Agriculture

Climate Change- EPA Regulation

John M. Broder reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “Coal-country lawmakers moved Thursday to impose a two-year moratorium on potential federal regulation of carbon dioxide and other climate-altering gases.

“Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, said the Environmental Protection Agency should refrain from issuing any new rules on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major stationary sources for two years to allow Congress to pass comprehensive legislation on energy and climate change” [related news release].

“Representatives Alan B. Mollohan and Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia [news release] and Rick Boucher of Virginia [news release], also Democrats, introduced a similar bill in the House.”

Mr. Broder explained that, “Lisa P. Jackson, the agency’s administrator, wrote Mr. Rockefeller and seven other Democratic senators last week outlining her timetable for such regulation. She said that limits on carbon dioxide pollution from vehicles would be issued this year under an agreement negotiated last year with major automakers.

Limits for large coal-burning power plants and industrial facilities would be phased in beginning in 2011, with no restrictions on smaller sources until 2016.

But that timetable is apparently too fast for Mr. Rockefeller and other representatives of coal-producing regions.”

The Times article pointed out that, “The E.P.A. said it was studying the Rockefeller proposal but that it was not as dismaying as the measure introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, and several others that would ban any regulation of carbon dioxide, including emissions from vehicles.

“‘It is important to note that Senator Rockefeller’s bill, unlike Senator Murkowski’s resolution, does not attempt to overturn or deny the scientific fact that unchecked greenhouse gas pollution threatens the well-being of the American people,’ said Adora Andy, an E.P.A. spokeswoman, ‘nor would it threaten the historic clean cars program announced by the Obama administration last year.’”

Juliet Eilperin and David A. Fahrenthold reported in today’s Washington Post that, “As climate change legislation stalled in the Senate, the Obama administration noted that it had a workable — although admittedly unwieldy — Plan B. If Congress wouldn’t cap U.S. emissions, officials said, the Environmental Protection Agency would do it instead.

Now, even Plan B may be in trouble.

“On Thursday, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill that would put a two-year freeze on the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants. His was the latest of various congressional proposals — from both chambers and both parties — designed to delay or overturn the EPA’s regulations.”

The Post article indicated that, “And, in a broader sense, activists are concerned about a loss of momentum for action on climate change.”

The Post article reminded readers that, “Several other Democrats have already signaled their unease about the administration’s tackling climate change without explicit congressional approval.

“Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) are co-sponsoring a ‘resolution of disapproval’ introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). It calls for Congress to overturn the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases are a danger to public health and welfare, the trigger for the agency’s efforts to regulate them.

“In the House, Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) have introduced a measure similar to Murkowski’s. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) proposes to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate pollution linked to global warming. And House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall II (D-W.Va.) and Reps. Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.) have said they will introduce a companion bill to Rockefeller’s.”

Also in the House, GOP Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced a resolution this week that would block EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases.

Reuters writer Richard Cowan reported yesterday on the introduction of Sen. Rockefeller’s bill and noted that, “Rockefeller’s bill, if passed by Congress, would impose a two-year time-out on EPA regulations on stationary sources of pollution from the date of enactment, so at least through March, 2012.

But some environmentalists saw longer delays.

“Joe Mendelson, director of global warming policy at the National Wildlife Federation, said the legislation would stop EPA from doing any more preparatory work on regulating smokestack carbon emissions.

“‘It’d be two years plus another 18 months to two years’ lost in laying the groundwork, Mendelson said. ‘We don’t have four years to wait.’”

Sen. Murkowski indicated in a news release from yesterday that, “Senator Rockefeller’s legislation is further evidence of the growing, bipartisan, and bicameral resistance to EPA’s back-door climate regulations. Given the overwhelming opposition to these actions, I’m hopeful that this bill will draw additional support and advance quickly. If that does not occur, the disapproval resolution is guaranteed consideration in the Senate. It’s imperative that senators have an opportunity to vote on whether or not they support EPA’s costly, unilateral and unprecedented attempt to impose these command-and-control regulations.”

And Sen. John Thune (R-SD) stated yesterday that, “The Obama administration and its allies in Congress have failed to advance cap-and-trade legislation, so the EPA is moving forward with a backdoor energy tax. Senator Rockefeller’s legislation is another example of the growing, bipartisan opposition to creating a new energy tax. Americans realize that these harmful EPA regulations would destroy jobs, raise energy prices, expand the government, and unfairly impact the Midwest, Mountain West, and the South. Sadly, these regulations would do little environmental good because China, India and other nations are continuing to increase their emissions.”

And the American Farm Bureau Federation noted yesterday that, “The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed scheme to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act is ‘economically harmful, legally suspect and environmentally indefensible,’ according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

AFBF is urging House members to support a bipartisan resolution to disapprove EPA’s greenhouse gas proposal, H.J. Res. 76, introduced by Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). The resolution would nullify EPA’s proposal, which is built around the agency’s flawed finding in December 2009 that greenhouse gases indirectly threaten human health and therefore could be regulated under the Clean Air Act.”

Meanwhile, Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) raised the rhetorical stakes in the Senate climate and energy fight Thursday.

“Kerry, downplaying the climate angle, said the broad package he’s crafting with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will meet several U.S. goals – and present colleagues with a stark choice.

“‘What we are talking about is a jobs bill. It is not a climate bill. It is a jobs bill, and it is a clean air bill. It is a national security, energy independence bill,’ he told reporters in the Capitol. ‘It is going to have very attractive, significant components in it to strengthen each of those pieces.’


“‘And people are going to have to decide whether they are going to vote for America or against it,’ he concluded.”

In a different angle on the debate of climate policy, Kimberley Strassel noted in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Since the beginning of the climate debate, environmental lobbies such as Ceres (a coalition of activists and investors that pressures companies to go green) have expressed particular interest in insurers. Rather than nitpick every company to adopt climate-change policies, these organizations realized it would be more efficient to target a gatekeeper. Everybody needs insurance. If insurers could be bludgeoned into requiring policyholders adopt carbon-mitigation practices as a requirement for insurance, the activists would have imposed their will widely and quickly.”

And Stephen Dinan reported in today’s Washington Times that, “Undaunted by a rash of scandals over the science underpinning climate change, top climate researchers are plotting to respond with what one scientist involved said needs to be ‘an outlandishly aggressively partisan approach’ to gut the credibility of skeptics.

“In private e-mails obtained by The Washington Times, climate scientists at the National Academy of Sciences say they are tired of ‘being treated like political pawns’ and need to fight back in kind. Their strategy includes forming a nonprofit group to organize researchers and use their donations to challenge critics by running a back-page ad in the New York Times.”

Trade

A couple of interesting agricultural trade issues were discussed on Wednesday when U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk appeared before the Senate Finance Committee to discuss executive branch perspective on the U.S. trade agenda.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) asked Amb. Kirk for an update on the U.S. – Mexican trade dispute regarding the safety of Mexican trucks that has resulted in tariffs being imposed on several agricultural products from her state.

To listen to the exchange between Sen. Cantwell and Amb. Kirk on this issue, just click here (MP3-1:24).

And Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware) noted the importance of the poultry industry in his state, and asked Amb. Kirk for more specific details regarding the ability of U.S. poultry exports to move freely into some markets.

This discussion is available here (MP3-3:40).

In related news on poultry trade, a Dow Jones news article from yesterday (via DTN, link requires subscription) reported that, “The second round of bilateral negotiations in Moscow on Russia’s ban on U.S. chicken has ended without producing a resolution, but some progress was made and discussions will continue, U.S. government and industry officials said Thursday.

“U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Jim Miller, who led the U.S. delegation to Moscow for the talks this week, is on his way back to the U.S., a USDA spokesman said. Miller had been in Moscow since Monday for this latest round of talks that U.S. chicken producers had hoped would result in Russia lifting its ban.”

Biofuels

Washington Post writer Steven Mufson reported yesterday at the Post Carbon Blog that, “‘What is a ‘subsidy’ to an industry that truly needs and deserves it? An ‘incentive.’

That’s what would-be makers of cellulosic ethanol are seeking in a letter sent Wednesday to the chairmen and ranking Republicans of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees. As it happens, the letter – signed by 37 companies and trade groups — will need to be resubmitted because Ways and Means is under new management, with its chairman Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) temporarily stepping aside.

“In any case, the letter is noteworthy for two reasons. One, the companies say that because of the weak economy, they need ‘additional incentives,’ and they ask for a 30 percent investment tax credit similar to one given to renewable energy electricity projects. The companies currently are entitled to a 30 percent production tax credit – but there’s no production. Two, the companies attach some pricey cost numbers to cellulosic ethanol plants, approvingly quoting a number from the National Renewable Energy Lab.”

Mr. Mufson added that, “Here’s what the group has to say about costs:

“‘To be clear, cellulosic technology deployment is currently an expensive proposition. The total project investment for a 50 million gallon per year advanced cellulosic biofuel refinery is estimated by the National Renewable Energy Lab to be $250 million, compared with a total project investment of only $76 million for the same sized corn starch ethanol plant. The conversion technology in an advanced or cellulosic biofuel refinery is pre-commercial, which makes commercial financing virtually impossible in the current economy, even though the projected improvement over the long-term results in robust economics.’

“Just a little while ago, in 2007, Congress was so confident in American know-how that it set ambitious production targets for cellulosic ethanol – 21 billion gallons of advanced and cellulosic biofuels by 2022 with interim targets. The companies now say that won’t be possible without additional help.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “Here’s what the companies have to say about those mandates.

“‘Although the law requires the use of these fuels beginning in 2010, no commercial cellulosic biorefineries are anticipated to be commissioned before 2011 at the earliest. The principal cause of this delay in commercialization is lack of funding caused by the severe downturn in the U.S. economy. Just as Congress responded to the impact of this downturn on the renewable electricity industry by allowing a 30% investment tax credit in new facilities that can be monetized through a federal Treasury grant program, we believe additional tax incentives are needed for advanced biofuel refineries.’”

Crop Insurance

A news release issued yesterday by USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) stated that, “[RMA] today said Occidental Fire and Casualty Company of North Carolina, headquartered in Raleigh, NC, will become the 16th crop insurance company approved to operate under USDA’s Standard Reinsurance Agreement. Occidental’s Crop Division located in Overland Park, KS, will manage its crop insurance business.”

The release added that, “As authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, RMA is in the process of renegotiating a Standard Reinsurance Agreement with the crop insurance companies who are already participating. Working with the companies, RMA is confident that the groups will come to an agreement that is prudent and sustainable for producers, companies and the taxpayer.”

With respect to the Standard Reinsurance Agreement, an update from National Crop Insurance Services noted recently that, “The crop insurance industry was disappointed with the USDA’s Risk Management Agency’s (RMA) second draft of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA), which failed to reflect any serious treatment of the crop insurance industry’s comments and recommendations offered in response to RMA’s first draft. A document released by the RMA on the same day that second draft was issued (RMA ‘Myth versus Fact’) further fails to respond seriously to our concerns and comments. Several of the so‐called ‘myths’ do not capture the substance of our concern, and the facts rebutting them simply reiterate RMA’s position. The following is our attempt to address the factual issues we are raising, relative to some of RMA’s characterizations, in the hope that in our ongoing conversations with RMA we can find a way together to discuss and work on our substantive concerns.”

Food Safety

Lyndsey Layton reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Thousands of types of processed foods — including many varieties of soups, chips, frozen dinners, hot dogs and salad dressings — may pose a health threat because they contain a flavor enhancer that could be contaminated with salmonella, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

“Officials believe the public health risk is low, and no one is known to have fallen ill as a result of the contamination. But manufacturers voluntarily recalled 56 products Thursday, and that number is expected to balloon in the coming weeks into what could be one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.”

Reuters writer Christopher Doering reported yesterday that, “Foodborne illnesses cost the United States $152 billion in health-related expenses each year, far more than prior estimates, according to a study released by consumer and public health groups on Wednesday.”

Animal Agriculture

Reuters writer Jasmin Melvin reported yesterday that, “U.S. Agriculture Department inspectors need better training on what action to take when they see livestock being abused, the investigative arm of Congress said in a report on Thursday.

“The U.S. food industry and its regulators have been subject to more scrutiny from activist groups and the public since a livestock abuse case forced the biggest-ever meat recall in U.S. history. A California packing plant was closed in 2008 because animals too sick or injured to walk were processed for meat.”

The Government Accountability Office released a report, titled, “Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, Actions Are Needed to Strengthen Enforcement,” while Lisa Shames, the GAO Director of Natural Resources and Environment, appeared yesterday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Domestic Policy Subcommittee to discuss the report in greater detail.

In part, Ms. Shames stated that, “I am pleased to be here today to discuss our work on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) actions to enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978 (HMSA), as amended, which prohibits the inhumane treatment of livestock in slaughter plants and generally requires that animals be rendered insensible—that is, unable to feel pain—before being slaughtered. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for enforcing HMSA. Concerns about the humane handling and slaughter of livestock have increased in recent years, particularly after possible HMSA violations were revealed at a slaughter plant in California in 2008 and one in Vermont in 2009.

“This statement summarizes our report being released today that (1) evaluates USDA’s efforts to enforce HMSA, (2) identifies the extent to which FSIS tracks recent trends in FSIS inspection resources for enforcing HMSA, and (3) evaluates FSIS’s efforts to develop a strategy to guide HMSA enforcement.”

Keith Good