September 16, 2019

Climate Issues; EPA; Ag Economy; Farm Bill; and Financial Regulation

Climate Issues: Senate Legislative Alternatives

An update posted yesterday at CQPolitics reported that, “In a move that threatens Democratic efforts to advance a climate change bill, two influential Senate Republicans are throwing their support behind competing legislation unveiled Wednesday by Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind. [bill text, outline, two-page summary, and additional analysis].

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the point person on energy matters in her caucus, signaled her support Wednesday.

“‘I talked to him very briefly at lunch yesterday and I’m looking forward to supporting it,’ she said.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Additionally, Lugar’s office said South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham would join him at a Wednesday press conference on the bill, which Lugar dubs as the ‘practical energy and climate plan.’ It aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a host of energy efficiency provisions and expanded federal support for nuclear power.

The support of Murkowski and Graham for the emerging GOP proposal is a blow to Democrats, who continue to struggle to court Republicans votes for a cap-and-trade climate change measure.”

John M. Broder
reported yesterday at the Green Blog (New York Times) that, “The [Lugar] proposal, called the Lugar Practical Energy and Climate Plan, has little chance of passage in the Democratic-dominated Senate.

“But Mr. Lugar’s more incremental approach is designed to appeal to moderate Republicans and a group of Midwestern Democrats who are nervous about the impact of broad climate change legislation on jobs in states that are heavily dependent on coal and manufacturing.”

Mr. Broder noted that, “The Lugar-Graham plan achieves savings in electricity and oil use by requiring higher mileage for vehicles, greater efficiency in power generation, increased use of alternative fuels and new standards for energy use in buildings.

There is no mandatory reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate-altering gases like those in the Kerry-Lieberman plan put forward last month.”

Ben Geman reported yesterday at the Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Graham said he ‘thoroughly enjoyed’ his work with Kerry and Lieberman to recast the sweeping cap-and-trade bill that passed the House and sputtered in the Senate. But he then embraced the Lugar plan.

“‘Senator Lugar has found a way forward that I think will be attractive to the business community, to Democrats and Republicans alike, and I would like to be his partner and see if we can find common ground with other people like Sens. Kerry and Lieberman who are interested in the same goals,’ Graham said.

“He added: ‘Those three goals are, simply stated, break our dependence on foreign oil, create jobs in America that will never go to China through energy independence and try to find a way to clean up the air here in America and purify the water.’”

Meanwhile, Darren Samuelsohn of Greenwire reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “Advocates for a comprehensive energy and climate bill are scrambling to find the Senate votes they need by stitching together ideas from a variety of existing and fast-surfacing proposals.

“With time running out on the legislative calendar, top Democrats and the White House have begun a piecemeal review of their options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and curbing oil consumption as they respond to the massive BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Obama administration and its allies on Capitol Hill have settled on what is being called a ‘buffet strategy’ to find 60 votes they need to get a bill done before a new Congress comes in next January.”

Yesterday’s article noted that, “Tomorrow, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) meets with key committee leaders to map out a floor strategy for the next two months. A special Democratic caucus is also planned for next Thursday to give all 59 senators a chance to weigh in on pricing carbon emissions and other alternative options for promoting energy efficiency and promoting the use of fewer fossil fuels.

“Several legislative ideas are already on the table for them to choose from: Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have the ‘American Power Act’ (pdf) to cap greenhouse gases; Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) produced a bill last June with a nationwide renewable energy standard; Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have an alternative ‘cap-and-dividend’ approach for pricing carbon emissions; and Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are coming out today with a bill (pdf) that promotes energy efficiency while avoiding a mandatory price on carbon.

“White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told The New York Times yesterday that he is expecting to pluck ideas from each of the Senate proposals. ‘There’s enough in each,’ he told the newspaper, for ‘a serious and comprehensive energy bill. And you can do it this year.’”

Climate Issues: Senate Action on EPA Regulation Authority

Stephen Power reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The president’s push to combat climate change without waiting for Congress faces a vote of confidence Thursday when the U.S. Senate debates Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s proposal to block the administration from curbing greenhouse-gas emissions using its power under the Clean Air Act.

“The Republican’s measure to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions has become swept up in a bigger debate over how the federal government should respond to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

“President Barack Obama, Democratic congressional leaders and an array of groups that support action on climate change say the disaster dramatizes the need to take strong action to reduce the U.S. economy’s dependence on fossil fuels. Ms. Murkowski says letting the EPA regulate greenhouse-gas emissions ‘does nothing to help clean up the Gulf of Mexico,’ and that trying to tie the two issues is inappropriate.”

With respect to Sen. Murkowski’s proposal, Alexander Bolten reported yesterday at the Hill that, “But if the president were forced to use his veto to prevent legislation emerging from a Congress in which his own party enjoys substantial majorities, it would be a humiliation for him and for Democrats on Capitol Hill.

So Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democratic leaders are doing what they can to stop it.

“They are floating the possibility of voting on an alternative measure from Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from the coal state of West Virginia, which they previously refused to grant floor time, Senate sources say.

“A spokeswoman for Reid declined to comment on the offer. But Democrats on Wednesday thought it was good enough to win a crucial vote on the Republican resolution.”

Yesterday’s Hill article added that, “‘There well could be’ a vote on his resolution, Rockefeller said. Unlike Murkowski’s measure, Rockefeller’s bill will need 60 votes to overcome procedural obstacles.

“Several pivotal Democratic senators are now leaning against Murkowski’s resolution. They are Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.).

Environmental group lobbyists expressed confidence Wednesday that Murkowski’s resolution would not garner 51 votes.”

The editorial pages of both The New York Times and The Washington Post addressed the Senate climate debate in today’s papers.

The Times indicated that Sen. Murkowski’s resolution was, “a mischievous and potentially destructive resolution;” and, The Post added that, “If Congress approves a real climate bill, there can and should be a legitimate debate about the role of EPA regulation in a broader carbon-cutting effort. Until then, attempting to strip the agency of its authority to regulate is premature.”

In other energy related developments, John M. Broder reported in today’s New York Times that, “The United States is badly lagging in basic research on new forms of energy, deepening the nation’s dependence on dirty fuels and crippling its international competitiveness, a diverse group of business executives warn in a study to be released Thursday.

“The group, which includes Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft; Jeffrey R. Immelt, chief executive of General Electric; and John Doerr, a top venture capitalist, urges the government to more than triple spending on energy research and development, to $16 billion a year. And it recommends creation of a national energy board to guide investment decisions toward radical advances in energy technology.

Mr. Gates said in an interview that drastic changes were needed in the way the United States produced and consumed energy to assure its security and to begin to address climate change. He endorsed the administration’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, but said that was not possible with today’s technology or politics.”

From an international perspective, Bloomberg writer Alex Morales reported yesterday that, “Christiana Figueres, a Costa Rican who on July 8 will take the helm of the United Nations body that organizes global climate-change treaty talks, said an all- encompassing deal is unlikely to happen in her lifetime.

“Governments must instead focus on making incremental efforts to end global warming because the response ‘is going to require the sustained effort of those who will be here for the next 20, 30, 40 years,’ Figueres, 53, told reporters today in Bonn, where the latest two-week round of talks is taking place.”

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

In a more in-depth look at climate issues and EPA, Dow Jones writer Maya Jackson Randall reported yesterday that, “The Environmental Protection Agency’s watchdog Wednesday released a report [summary, entire report] charging that the agency’s authority is too fragmented to adequately address the issues of climate change, water scarcity and pollution that now face the nation.

Bill A. Roderick, the EPA’s acting inspector general, argued that the EPA is in dire need of a new, comprehensive, national environmental protection policy.

“Noting that the agency works with states and 25 federal agencies, he also called for the EPA to improve coordination with federal and local officials.”

And Sindya N. Bhanoo reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “‘We are supposed to be stewards of the land,’ said Matthew Stoltzfus, a 34-year-old dairy farmer and father of seven whose family, like many other Amish, shuns cars in favor of horse and buggy and lives without electricity. ‘It is our Christian duty.’

“But farmers like Mr. Stoltzfus are facing growing scrutiny for agricultural practices that the federal government sees as environmentally destructive. Their cows generate heaps of manure that easily washes into streams and flows onward into the Chesapeake Bay.

“And the Environmental Protection Agency, charged by President Obama with restoring the bay to health, is determined to crack down. The farmers have a choice: change the way they farm or face stiff penalties.”

Ag Economy

Steve Jordan reported in today’s Omaha World-Herald that, “Drought-resistant seed corn could expand the Corn Belt as much as 300 miles west, those attending a regional farm conference were told Wednesday.

“In addition, new non-thirsty corn varieties could let Nebraska corn farmers raise just as much grain with far less water for irrigation, while protecting Iowa’s non-irrigated fields from drought damage.

“The promise of lower-cost, water-conserving corn was one of several optimistic notes sounded at the two-day agricultural symposium, attended by about 175 people and held by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City at its headquarters here [Kansas City].”

Bloomberg writer Whitney McFerron reported yesterday that, “U.S. hog farmers, profitable for the first time since 2007, are unlikely to expand their herds until late next year as they seek to reduce debt first, said Mark Greenwood, a vice president at AgStar Financial Services Inc.

‘About 20 percent of producers will have cut operating debt by the end of this year, and those farms are more likely to buy existing herds than produce more sows to boost output, said Greenwood, who manages a $1.4 billion of swine-industry loans and leases for Mankato, Minnesota-based AgStar. Debt-burdened farmers may exit the business by selling to rivals, he said.”

2008 Farm Bill

A news release issued yesterday by the House Ag Committee stated that, “Today, Congressman Tim Holden (D-PA), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research, held a hearing to review renewable energy and energy efficiency policies authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill as the Committee begins consideration of the next Farm Bill.

The 2008 Farm Bill provided $1 billion dollars to fund programs that promote growth in the renewable energy industry and help rural small businesses invest in energy efficiency projects.”

A audio replay of yesterday’s hearing can be downloaded here.

A news release issued yesterday regarding the hearing by Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) noted that, “Congressman Earl Pomeroy secured a commitment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today to ensure canola biodiesel is not shortchanged in a Farm Bill program that aims to help grow the nation’s renewable fuel industry.”

Meanwhile, a news release issued yesterday by Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley noted that, “Chuck Grassley today asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider a late fee for agriculture producers who missed a sign up deadline for the Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment Program and the Average Crop Revenue Election Program.

“Grassley said the different sign up deadlines for the farm programs have caused some confusion among producers. Under the 2002 farm bill, farmers who missed the filing deadline were given the opportunity to sign up for the program with payment of a late filing fee. This year, there is no such option.”

A news release by USDA yesterday stated that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today highlighted the release of a report that details how broadband deployment funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) will improve the quality of life of over half a million rural American households. The report also states that broadband awards announced to date will create about 5,000 immediate and direct jobs.”

And in nutrition related news, Justin Juozapavicius and Michelle Roberts reported in today’s Washington Post that, “The recession has landed millions of hungry families in similar straits, forcing them to endure long waits for help buying basic groceries. A review by the Associated Press found that dozens of food-stamp programs in 39 states left at least a quarter of applicants waiting weeks or months for food aid, some in areas that were not particularly hard hit by the economic downturn.

“Federal law requires applications for food stamps to be reviewed within 30 days of being filed, and even faster for the poorest families. Failure to do so can subject agencies to federal sanctions and lawsuits, but individual families are largely at the mercy of their local administrators.”

Financial Regulation

Michael R. Crittenden and Victoria McGrane reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s surprising victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Arkansas appears to have hardened an anti-Wall Street bent in Congress’s financial-overhaul bill.

“Ms. Lincoln wrote a controversial provision in the bill that could force banks to spin off their lucrative derivatives-trading operations. Bankers and many lawmakers assumed the provision would wither once Ms. Lincoln lost her primary—or even if she won, given the diminished political imperative to look tough on Wall Street.

But her victory appeared to have the opposite effect, with Democrats saying her standing is now strengthened, particularly as it appears the populist provision resonated with voters.”

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “Lincoln won a tough battle for the Democratic nomination for her Arkansas Senate seat on Tuesday. Her tough derivatives provisions have been opposed by banks and their regulators, and some congressional Democrats have also raised concerns.

“An aide said Lincoln ‘plans to continue to fight for her (spin-off) proposal.’”

Mr. Abbott explained that, “[Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut)] said Lincoln’s victory strengthened her hand in the negotiating process. As Agriculture Committee chair, she will be the chief Senate negotiator on the agriculture and derivatives portion of the bill, he said.

“‘I will certainly listen to ideas that people have on matters that can deal with this in some way,’ Dodd said. ‘Obviously it’s an area that we’re going to have to talk to Blanche about.’”

Meanwhile, Shaila Dewan noted in today’s New York Times that Sen. Lincoln now “enters the general election against a Republican congressman, John Boozman, a race sure to attract considerable interest and money from the national parties.

“Mrs. Lincoln’s critics on both sides of the ideological spectrum have long predicted that there is no way she can survive such a challenge, and Republicans are salivating to attack her for, among other things, her support of the Democrats’ sweeping health care bill.

“Still, Mrs. Lincoln is an incumbent Democrat in a largely Democratic state. Her campaign has $2 million (Mr. Boozman raised less than $900,000 in his primary fight; he has not filed a finance report since.) Mrs. Lincoln has been a statewide name for a dozen years, while Mr. Boozman is not well known outside his district in conservative northwest Arkansas.”

The Times article indicated that, “In 1998, when Mrs. Lincoln first won a Senate seat, her opponent was Mr. Boozman’s brother, Fay Boozman.

“Jay Barth, a political scientist at Hendrix College, said the [Democratic primary] challenge from [Ark. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter] had improved Mrs. Lincoln’s game, forcing her to overcome a reputation for aloofness and to speak directly to the camera in her commercials.”

The Times article added that, “Mrs. Lincoln is also the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, a bullet point which largely disappeared from her runoff campaign (perhaps because it reminded people too much of Washington) but may now return to her repertoire.”

Keith Good

Comments are closed.