FarmPolicy

August 21, 2019

Climate Change; EPA Issue; Biofuels; and Nutrition

Categories: Climate Change /Ethanol

Climate Change

Jim Tankersley and Peter Nicholas reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “President Obama’s victory on healthcare gave him some much-needed political momentum. But he seems disinclined to ride that into another all-in battle this year on his keystone domestic agenda items of climate change and immigration.

Instead, the White House is planning to focus on narrower efforts to pump up the economy, rewrite financial regulation, amend campaign finance laws to limit corporate donations and impose new fees on banks to repay federal bailout funds.

“The White House is careful to say that it remains strongly committed to overhauling immigration and limiting greenhouse gases. But so far, the Obama administration has shown little appetite to engage aggressively in crafting legislation and rounding up votes on Capitol Hill for what would probably be deeply partisan fights over those issues as congressional elections near.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Significantly, regardless of the specific issue, Obama so far is following the same playbook he used in the early phase of the healthcare fight: deferring to Congress and giving lawmakers wide latitude in writing legislation and plotting strategy.”

“With the midterm elections approaching, however, Obama’s hope may be to demonstrate a level of support just high enough to placate immigration and environmental activists. That way, he need not make the all-out commitment that might further erode his approval ratings just when reelection-minded Democrats in Congress need him to be popular.”

Meanwhile, Josh Gerstein reported yesterday at Politico that, “The White House’s aggressive drive to recalibrate its message and emphasize the issues it thinks will resonate best with voters could be upended if — as is widely expected — John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court’s senior justice, decides it is time to retire.

“The retirement of the court’s 89-year-old liberal stalwart would confront President Barack Obama with a difficult and highly partisan confirmation battle that could drag on for months at a time when the White House wants to focus on selling the administration’s historic health care legislation and efforts to turn around the economy.”

And Mike Soraghan of Greenwire reported on Friday at The New York Times Online that, “It’s often said in Washington that if you anger both liberals and conservatives, you must be doing something right.

“By that measure, President Obama may have done something right with his offshore drilling plan, but he does not appear to have advanced his higher priority — passing a comprehensive climate and energy bill.

“Obama has not moved many GOP votes, if any. The Republicans who did praise his plan called it too little, too late. And any goodwill he has won from centrist Democrats could be offset by the scorn of environmental groups and liberal lawmakers who say their votes are in jeopardy if the climate plan leads to more coastal drilling.”

Washington Post write Juliet Eilperin reported on Friday at the Post Carbon Blog that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has given Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) a clear ultimatum on climate legislation: unveil a bill within a couple of weeks, or steel yourself for an energy-only bill on the Senate floor.

“In a closed-door meeting last week, Reid informed Kerry that he was willing to give the Massachusetts Democrat and his two colleagues, Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), a couple of more weeks to write their climate compromise, so other senators could see it once they return from their spring recess. If not, he would bring up Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M.) bill, which has already passed the committee with bipartisan support.”

Ms. Eilperin added that, “The troika is hoping to unveil their bill the week of April 19, so it will concide with Earth Day rather than Tax Week–this might still meet Reid’s deadline, though he’s sounding increasing impatient.

“‘We have to be making final decisions soon,’ said Reid spokesman Jim Manley, who noted that once the current break ends there will be just 15 weeks for senators to work before August recess arrives.”

The Washington Post editorial board indicated today that, “The [climate legislative] action is in the Senate, where Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) are preparing a proposal. The outlines are becoming clear: The package is expected to contain a cap on carbon emissions that will grow stricter over time and a slew of provisions to promote certain types of energy. Unlike the cap in a House-passed bill, the Senate’s cap at first would apply only to the electricity and perhaps the transportation fuels sectors, with industry to phase in later.

“First, the encouraging part about this. If America is to deal with climate change, it has to reduce carbon emissions — the pollution caused by burning oil, gas and coal. The most cost-effective way to do that is by placing a price on carbon that gradually rises, which a cap could achieve. If well-designed, carbon pricing will attract private capital into the clean-energy effort and spur the technological innovation that will smooth the transition to a cleaner economy. Even a weak cap can be strengthened later, as long as the structure is in place. Though this seems obvious, it is a small miracle that a carbon price of any kind is still on the table in the Senate following Republican demagoguery about ‘cap-and-tax’ proposals.

There is pressure in the Senate to forget about pricing carbon and just pass a bill filled with clean-energy subsidies. That would be both wasteful and inadequate given the scale of reductions needed.”

EPA Issue

Greg Horstmeier reported on Friday at DTN that, “State pesticide regulators and ag industry groups say the Environmental Protection Agency has wafted a little too far off target in proposed regulations on pesticide spray drift.

“‘We’re concerned with the proposed regulations both from the point that they don’t give the clarity we were really seeking, and because they have the potential of significantly shifting the policy on how pesticides are regulated,’ said Nathan Bowen, spokesman for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

NASDA is one of many groups and individuals that have submitted some 850 documents during the current comment period on proposed changes to spray drift guidelines. The proposals include new language for pesticide labels and guidance for state pesticide regulators on pesticide drift enforcement.”

The DTN article explained that, “Most current pesticide labels include the direction ‘Do not apply this product in a way that will contact workers or other persons, either directly or through drift.’ What state regulators wanted, both Bowen and EPA in its documents said, was clarification on how to interpret and enforce that language.

“In its proposal, EPA would add a statement to those label directions: ‘In addition, do not apply this product in a manner that results in spray [or dust] drift that could cause an adverse effect to people or any other non-target organism or site.’

“NASDA and others are deeply concerned about the phrase ‘could cause adverse effects.’ The wording could be taken as a sign EPA is veering from the ‘risk-benefit’ assessment that has been a cornerstone of pesticide regulations under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).”

Biofuels

Bill Lambrecht reported on Saturday at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Online that, “Ethanol’s extended run of taxpayer backing could be in jeopardy.

“A coalition of opponents to the corn-based fuel is working to block the extension of billions of dollars in biofuels tax credits, set to expire at year’s end.

“Ethanol is accustomed to getting its way in Washington. Backers have secured a guaranteed long-term market by persuading the federal government to enact tariffs limiting imports of cleaner Brazilian ethanol.

“But when Illinois and Missouri members of Congress opened a new effort recently to extend the tax breaks, a phalanx of opponents quickly mobilized. They include the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the American Meat Institute, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, environmental organizations and pro-taxpayer groups.”

The article indicated that, “Opponents have come up short in the past when trying to match the clout of ethanol and the farm lobby. This time, they claim their odds are better as a result of new spending rules in Congress designed to limit government giveaways. In ethanol’s case, supporters would need to find equivalent cuts to continue roughly $5 billion worth of tax credits.”

And on the E15 blend issue, The Washington Times editorial board indicated recently that, “The Environmental Protection Agency wants to dump more corn into your fuel tank this summer, and it’s going to cost more than you think.

“The agency is expected to approve a request from 52 ethanol producers known collectively as ‘Growth Energy’ to boost existing requirements that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol to 15 percent. The change means billions more in government subsidies for companies in the business of growing corn and converting it into ethanol. For the rest of us, it means significantly higher gasoline and food prices.

“It’s time that this shameless corporate welfare gets plowed under.”

The Washington Times editorial concluded by saying, “Even those who do not own automobiles will begin to feel the pinch as more and more farm land is shifted towards taking advantage of government-subsidized ethanol production instead of food. Groups as diverse as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Chicken Council and the American Meat Institute realize that this policy is distorting the market for food prices.

“According to the University of Missouri’s Farm and Policy Research Institute, the ethanol tax credit increases corn prices by 18 cents a barrel [bushel?], wheat by 15 cents and soybeans by 28 cents. That means higher prices for most food items at the grocery store and restaurants.

“There simply is no justification – environmental or otherwise – for this interventionist scheme. With the economy reeling, consumers can no longer afford to bankroll the politically connected agricultural lobby. The EPA should reject the 15 percent ethanol requirement and Congress should send Big Corn’s rent seekers elsewhere with the repeal of all ethanol subsidies.”

Nutrition

The New York Times editorial board indicated today that, “It is probably too much to hope that the more than 30 million school lunches served every day will taste absolutely fabulous. But Congress should at least make certain that whatever lands on those cafeteria trays is nutritious and safe to eat. Every day it delays doing so is another mealtime when millions of students are cheated of programs that could help relieve hunger and reduce obesity.

A reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is now before the Senate. The bill’s main sponsors, Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, and Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, have written useful revisions and improvements. The measure deserves prompt approval. It is also time for the House to produce its own version. If Congress can act by late spring, next year’s school cafeteria crowd can be more confident that the food is healthier and safer to eat.”

The Times noted that, “The Senate bill reauthorizes several antihunger programs for children, but its biggest impact would be felt in schools that offer free or cut-rate meals. The bill would give the Agriculture Department new powers to set nutritional standards for any food sold on school grounds, particularly junk foods that contribute to obesity. It would expand the use of local farm products, organic food and school gardens, and require the government to notify schools more quickly about tainted foods. It also provides the first real increase in funding in 40 years.

“The bill can and should be improved when it reaches the floor. President Obama — no doubt nudged by Michelle Obama, who has personally campaigned for better nutrition — asked for an additional $10 billion over the next 10 years for child nutrition. The Senate version provides only $4.5 billion extra. The Senate should also ban all trans fats, a cause championed by Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York.”

Keith Good

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