FarmPolicy

September 23, 2019

Climate Issues; Biofuels; Ag Economy Issues; and Trade

Climate Issues

Lisa Lerer reported yesterday at Politico that, “Disagreement among Senate Democrats is slowing progress on the climate bill – even as supporters push to move forward with a proposal this week.

“Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have been working overtime to move a draft of their climate bill forward before the Senate leaves for recess at the end of the week.”

Yesterday’s article explained that, “But at the same time, Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman and Democratic Policy Committee chair Byron Dorgan have been fiercely lobbying Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to take up the energy-only bill approved by the energy committee last June. The two met with Reid last week to argue for their legislation, which includes no cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

“On Monday, Reid said no decisions have been on how to move forward.

“‘I’ve got lots of options on energy and I’m going to try to work it through with Bingaman and Kerry,’ said Reid.”

Donnie Fowler, writing last week at the Huffington Post, provided additional detail on the “energy only bill” championed by Sen. Bingaman, as well as the framework outline being developed by Kerry, Graham and Lieberman.

Mr. Fowler noted that, “The Senate is where the current debate lies because the House of Representatives already passed its bill in June 2009 (the ‘ACES Act’ or the ‘Markey-Waxman’ bill). The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate bill will join an energy bill written by Sen. Jeff Bingaman last Fall as the main vehicle for a new national policy. The House of Representatives must then decide what to do about its own bill and the Senate’s before President Obama signs anything into law. ‘It will be a very different mix of a bill from where we were at the end of the House effort,’ Kerry said. ‘It will be simpler, and hopefully, capable of attracting support.’”

Meanwhile, Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “Twenty-two Senate Democrats are pressing Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring a broad climate bill to the floor.

“The centrist and liberal Democrats want Reid (D-Nev.) to bring broad, bipartisan energy and climate legislation to a floor vote this year, despite the fact that mid-term elections are later this year.”

Mr. Geman noted that, “A letter from the lawmakers to Reid Friday demonstrates that a substantial number of liberal and moderate senators hope to keep the issue on the Senate radar despite a slew of competing election-year priorities.”

“Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) spearheaded the letter. Other signers include Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), and Mark Begich (D-Alaska).”

With respect to Friday’s letter, Amy Harder reported yesterday at the National Journal Online that, “Signers include Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Both hail from Midwestern industrial states, and they are wary of the effect a carbon pricing system could have on their states’ economies. They have been working on the issue with the Senate trio crafting the legislation.

“‘Our lack of a comprehensive clean energy policy hurts job creation and increases regulatory uncertainty throughout our economy,’ the Democrats wrote. ‘Businesses are waiting on clear signals from Congress before investing billions in energy, transportation, manufacturing, buildings and other sectors.’ The senators did not mention EPA’s forthcoming greenhouse gas regulations or efforts by Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to delay or block those regulations. Neither Rockefeller nor his West Virginia colleague Robert Byrd signed on to the letter.

“The letter was sent amid two other statements released by environmental and industry and business groups hailing the Senate’s efforts on bipartisan climate and energy legislation.”

Bloomberg writer Kim Chipman reported yesterday that, “The push to move forward with President Barack Obama’s goal of capping greenhouse gases blamed for climate change comes after a lengthy partisan battle over health-care legislation. The fight may have hurt chances of getting a climate-change measure through Congress this year, said Kevin Book, an analyst at Clearview Energy Partners LLC.

“‘Climate and energy legislation odds are now less likely,’ Book, a Washington-based managing director for analysis, said in a report today.

“Reid told reporters last week that ‘we know we have to do something’ on energy legislation. ‘The issue before us is how do we do it,’ Reid said after former President Bill Clinton talked to Senate Democrats about the need to pass a bill.”

The Bloomberg article added that, “Some Senate Republicans have threatened to retaliate against Democrats for their tactics in getting the health-care bill passed. Possible scenarios include an attempt to block all legislation on the Senate floor through the November elections, according to Book.”

In a variable regarding agriculture, and the potential carbon “offsets” offered by farmers, Washington Post writer Juliet Eilperin reported yesterday at the Post Carbon Blog that, “And while it remains unclear whether Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) will be able to produce a compromised climate bill that has enough support to pass the Senate, outside groups are still doing their best to lobby them: A coalition of forestry and forest product associations joined with environmental groups in sending the three senators a letter calling for private incentives for farms and domestic and tropical forests as part of any comprehensive climate and energy bill.”

In part, the letter stated that, “We strongly believe that any successful comprehensive energy and climate change legislation must include forests and farms as a significant part of the solution. By providing an affordable means to address climate change, public and private incentives (such as offsets) for forests and farms can help Americans save money while leading the way to a low carbon economy.

American agriculture can play a major role in sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Providing strong incentives to American farms and ranches can help feed and fuel the world and do it in a way that involves American agriculture in the energy and climate solution – while bringing increased prosperity to rural America.”

Jessica Brady reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are expected to brief a bipartisan group of Members Tuesday on the climate proposal they have been developing for weeks.

“Despite recent buzz surrounding the issue following a trip to the Capitol last week by former President Bill Clinton to encourage Democrats to take on reform, the Senate is expected to focus on smaller jobs packages and financial regulatory reform in the months leading up to the midterm elections, leaving an extremely narrow window for climate legislation this year.”

And despite the push for Senate action on the climate issue, Darren Samuelsohn of Greenwire reported yesterday at the New York Times Online (“Senate Climate Bill Compromises Frighten, Infuriate Some Enviro Groups”), that some environmental groups may be growing reluctant about what a potential Senate bill may look like.

Mr. Samuelsohn noted that, “But after the House passed a sweeping climate bill last June, the effort stalled in the Senate. And now environmentalists are being asked to agree to painful compromises that senators say are needed to get something — anything, really — across the finish line.

“‘We’re not sure what we’re getting now,’ said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S.”

The article indicated that, “And Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, is urging lawmakers to vote against the Senate climate bill if it includes language that strips U.S. EPA of its authority to control greenhouse gas emissions under the 40-year-old Clean Air Act, a concession Lieberman said last week he would have to make to win over moderate Democrats and Republicans.

“Suckling said he also isn’t sure about the integrity of the short- and long-term greenhouse gas emission limits being proposed by the three senators, which he says don’t come anywhere close to what the science suggests is needed from the world’s second-biggest contributor to global warming.”

However, yesterday’s Greenwire article added that, “Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said Friends of the Earth and some of the other groups have been advocating for unrealistic legislative approaches. ‘These groups are longtime opponents of any bill that could pass one house or another,’ he said.

Weiss also pushed back against the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups that would prefer EPA regulate greenhouse gases, citing efforts on Capitol Hill this year to strike the agency’s authority even without a climate law.

“‘EPA is unlikely to have clear sailing to set global warming pollution standards under the Clean Air Act,’ he said. ‘Big Oil’s congressional allies will do everything they can to block EPA.’”

With respect to potential momentum of climate legislation in the Senate, Perry Bacon Jr. reported in today’s Washington Post that, “In the wake of Sunday’s [health care] vote, House Democrats are feeling less gloomy about the prospect of enacting legislation this year beyond health care.

“The House Progressive Caucus, made up of the chamber’s most liberal members, has bemoaned the Senate at times this year. But Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the caucus co-chairman, said, ‘Passing health care and the leadership the president has provided will give us a renewed sense of urgency, and I think that’s going to give us momentum.’

“They also point to passage Monday by the Senate banking committee of a financial regulatory overhaul bill [see related article, “Senate panel passes sweeping financial-regulation bill”]. And Democrats are trying to work with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) to get bipartisan backing on climate change and on immigration reform — another priority of many House members.

Graham has suggested, though, that the lingering divide between the two parties from health care could complicate cooperation on other issues.”

In another agricultural variable in the climate debate, Jennifer Harper reported in today’s Washington Times that, “Forget all that indecorous talk of animal flatulence, cow burps, vegetarianism and global warming. Welcome to Cowgate.

Lower consumption of meat and dairy products will not have a major impact in combating global warming — despite persistent claims that link such diets to more greenhouse gases. So says a report presented Monday before the American Chemical Society.”

Today’s article noted that, “It is the bovine version of Climategate, complete with faulty science and noisy activists with big agendas.

Cows and pigs have gotten a ‘bum rap,’ said Frank Mitloehner, an air quality expert at the University of California at Davis who authored the report. He is plenty critical of scientists and vegetarian activists such as Paul McCartney who insist that livestock account for about a fifth of all greenhouse-gas emissions.

“He also is critical of highly-publicized campaigns that call for ‘meatless Mondays’ or push the motto ‘Less Meat = Less Heat,’ a European campaign launched in December during the Copenhagen climate summit. Talk of pricey air pollution permits of a ‘cow tax’ for already cash-strapped farmers has surfaced in the U.S. and abroad.”

The article indicated that, “‘We certainly can reduce our greenhouse-gas production, but not by consuming less meat and milk. Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries,’ Mr. Mitloehner said.

The focus of confronting climate change, he said, should be on smarter farming, not less farming.

“‘The developed world should focus on increasing efficient meat production in developing countries where growing populations need more nutritious food. In developing countries, we should adopt more efficient, Western-style farming practices to make more food with less greenhouse gas production,’ Mr. Mitloehner said.”

Biofuels

The “Washington Insider” section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Congress has been juggling a number of bills that have the goal of creating or preserving jobs for Americans. One of those bills also contains a provision for a retroactive extension of the tax credit for biofuel production. Unfortunately, the jobs bill with the tax credit extension is not the one that was signed into law last week by President Obama. That tax credit/jobs bill is still stuck in Congress.

The biodiesel tax credit language is included in a measure that has passed the Senate but is still awaiting action in the House. The bill is typically referred to as the tax extenders bill.

“There is only a slim chance the House will take up the tax extenders bill this week, largely because of the heavy workload and because sponsors are still looking for budget offsets to pay for that legislation. (Congress goes into recess this Friday.) However, it is likely the measure will see floor action shortly after members return to Washington April 12 following their two-week spring recess.”

Ag Economy Issues

The AP reported yesterday that, “Fields of white cotton once stretched as far as the eye could see across the fertile Mississippi Delta, but now many of those acres are flush with green corn stalks.

“U.S. cotton production peaked in 2005 and has been sliding since as farmers switch from growing fiber to food. The reasons are many: Corn prices have been strong, and it’s more profitable because it takes less labor to produce. Corn’s lower production costs also make it a less risky investment than cotton.

Cotton production dropped about 53 percent in the five-state Mid-South region from 2005 through 2008 as farms converted to corn and soybeans. Job losses followed.”

The article added that, “Economists estimate for every three jobs needed to produce cotton, only one is needed to grow corn or soybeans. It’s difficult to say how many jobs have been lost, but the shift is real, and rural economies are feeling the effect, said Darren Hudson, director of the Cotton Economics Research Institute at Texas Tech.”

Julie Harker reported yesterday at Browfield (audio link included) that, “The future is starting to look brighter for hog producers after quite a rough financial patch. Economist Steve Meyer tells Brownfield this next year in the hog industry is looking better and should be better than it has been in awhile.”

Sarah Muirhead
reported earlier this week at FeedStuffs Online that, “The blame being put on modern agriculture for America’s growing rates of obesity and obesity-related illnesses is misdirected, according to Steven Sexton, a University of California-Berkeley Ph.D. student in the department of agricultural and resource economics.

“Sexton, who published an article on the welfare effects of ‘locavorism’ (the preference to eat locally grown foods), believes a local food system would greatly increase costs of food production by imposing constraints on resource allocations, thereby directly affecting consumer welfare through higher food costs.”

And Reuters writer Andrew Quinn reported yesterday that, “The Obama administration will put food security at the heart of its Africa policy, as it seeks to enhance ongoing U.S. efforts on trade, investment and HIV/AIDS on the continent, a top U.S. diplomat said.

“‘We want to see the food security initiative take on greater momentum as more African countries are drawn into this program,’ said Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, the administration’s top official for Africa.”

Shirley S. Wang reported yesterday a The Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog that, “Nutritional labeling on menus will be coming to chain restaurants and vending machines near you! That’s right, menu labeling is going national, thanks to yesterday’s vote passing the health-care bill.

“Included in the more than 2,000 pages of the legislation is Section 2572, which mandates that chain restaurants with 20 or more locations will have to display nutritional and calorie information.”

Trade

Reuters writer Adrian Croft reported yesterday that, “The European Union cannot make more concessions on farm trade to restart stalled world trade talks and the United States must make the first move, the EU’s new trade chief said on Monday.

“The ball was not in the EU’s hands in the Doha trade talks, Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht said. ‘We are not responsible for what is presently happening,’ he said, speaking at the London School of Economics.”

And an update posted yesterday at the WTO Online stated that, “Director-General Pascal Lamy expressed the hope at the Trade Negotiations Committee meeting on 22 March 2010 that after the senior officials’ stocktaking of the Doha Round at the end of the week, ‘we will be able to send a strong signal to the outside world and focus the political energy that is needed to move the Round into the concluding phase.’”

Keith Good

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