FarmPolicy

February 22, 2019

Climate Issues; Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Animal Agriculture; Food Safety; Trade; and Financial Reform

Climate Issues

John M. Broder reported in today’s New York Times that, “The senators who emerged from a White House meeting with President Obama on energy policy on Tuesday made no effort to paper over the large differences that remain between them.

Democrats continued to insist on putting some sort of price on greenhouse gas emissions; Republicans continued to insist that to do so would be to impose a tax that would smother the economy.”

The article stated that, “Among the ideas circulating in Washington are a so-called energy-only bill that would encourage conservation and greater efficiency in buildings and vehicles; more government incentives for alternative fuels; a plan to cap greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plants while delaying regulation of other major sources of pollution for years; and a measure to rapidly build nuclear power plants and electrify the American vehicle fleet.

Mr. Obama neither offered specific ideas of his own nor endorsed any of these proposals, but said all parties shared an urgency about enacting some form of energy legislation this year, the White House account said.”

Juliet Eilperin reported in today’s Washington Post that, “In the hour-and-a-half meeting Tuesday, Obama urged the 23 senators to ‘aim high,’ several lawmakers said. But the president also made it clear that ‘he wasn’t putting out a particular recipe’ for a bill, said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). ‘The Senate is going to have to figure this out.’”

The Post article added that, “And [Sen. Susan] Collins [R-Maine], who has authored her own climate bill with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), said she could support a price on carbon only if revenue from pollution allowances was returned to consumers. She added, ‘It’s going to be very difficult’ to find any bill that can muster 60 votes, the number needed to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. ‘The White House meeting underscored to me how many diverse views there are on how to proceed with any clean-energy bill.’”

Laura Meckler and Stephen Power reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Some Democratic senators who attended a bipartisan White House meeting Mr. Obama convened to find a consensus on energy policy said there appeared to be support for a proposal to cap greenhouse-gas emissions from electric power utilities only.

“Most Republicans and some Democrats remain opposed to even that. But Republicans who attended the session said they could support more limited proposals to promote energy efficiency and renewable-energy technology.

“The Senate appears poised to act on legislation that would encompass many of these ideas, in addition to measures aimed at responding directly to the Gulf oil spill. But after the meeting, there was still no plan for how to move forward, even though Democrats hope to have legislation on the Senate floor in weeks.”

The Journal noted that, “Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, said that the only proposal that was likely to command sufficient support in both parties was legislation already approved in a Senate committee that would mandate greater use of renewable energy by electric utilities and set efficiency standards for buildings.”

Darren Samuelsohn reported yesterday at Politico that, “[Sen. Joe] Lieberman [I-Connecticut] said a couple of Republicans in the [White House] meeting promised to keep talking about the prospect of a less-ambitious climate program that includes a price on carbon, though he wouldn’t name names.

“[Sen. John] Kerry [D-Mass.] and Lieberman released a climate bill last month that capped greenhouse gases emitted by power plants, transportation and trade-sensitive manufacturers.

Reaction to their bill has been lukewarm, and the duo said they would keep talking to senators on both sides of the aisle during the coming weeks to try to find a deal that could win 60 Senate votes.”

Robin Bravender of ClimateWire reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is writing legislation to cap emissions from the utility sector, an approach that is gaining traction in Washington amid fresh concerns about what carrots might be dangled in front of power plants as incentive to sign on.

“The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman said yesterday that he has a bill that would cap greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. ‘I’ve done some work on that, but I haven’t introduced anything,’ he told reporters, adding it has some ‘significant differences’ from the Kerry-Lieberman cap-and-trade measure.”

Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that the White House meeting President Barack Obama hosted with a bipartisan group of senators demonstrated that broad climate change legislation is probably dead.

“Voinovich, who has been eyed as a swing vote on climate legislation, also cast doubt on efforts to advance a narrower plan that applies greenhouse gas limits to electric power plants only.”

Reuters writers Richard Cowan and Timothy Gardner reported today that, “Democratic Senator John Rockefeller, who currently opposes such mandatory reductions, told reporters after the meeting that Obama and senators attending the meeting did not reach agreement on how to move forward on climate change legislation.

“Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told reporters that while many Democrats think that putting a price on carbon is ‘the right way to go … it was obvious that a lot of different people had different ideas and everyone thought their own idea was better than the other.’

Manley said senators were ‘still reaching for a consensus on what we can take to the floor’ in July.”

Ben Geman and Darren Goode reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate GOP conference, said Republicans would work with the White House on legislation to boost electric vehicles, nuclear power, and energy research and development.

“‘If we want a clean energy bill, take a national energy tax off the table,’ Alexander said after the meeting. ‘As long as we take a national energy tax off the table, there’s no reason we can’t have clean energy legislation.’”

A statement issued yesterday by Sen. Ag. Comm. Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) stated in part that, “As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, I see great potential for our farms, ranches, forests, and rural areas to play a vital role in solving our energy challenges. Our farmers, foresters, and ranchers are the most productive and efficient in the world. Just as they provide the world with the safest, most abundant and affordable supply of food and fiber, through innovation and hard work, our farmers and foresters will also increasingly provide an inexpensive supply of renewable fuel and energy.

“Furthermore, states such as Arkansas with a diverse, thriving agricultural economy will have the opportunity to be leaders in renewable energy. That’s why, as Chairman, I am taking a close look at a wide range of energy proposals that would promote energy efficiency and renewable energy while creating jobs and growing our rural economy.

“We have the opportunity to create long-term, sustainable energy development in rural America, and we must seize that opportunity. When I consider proposals that will be raised when the Senate considers energy legislation, I will support provisions such those contained in the bipartisan bill passed out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that will spur job creation and economic development while ensuring the United States is a global leader in renewable energy. The bipartisan Senate energy bill also contained many conservation measures. We know some of the most inexpensive energy is that energy we don’t use at all, and therefore never need to create.”

A related release from yesterday by the House Ag. Comm. Republicans included these comments from Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma), “An effort to pass a cap and tax bill has stalled in the Senate, but that hasn’t prevented President Obama from bullying legislators on this issue. On Tuesday he met with various Senators to push for it saying afterwards he was confident it would pass this year.

“President Obama is even exploiting the widening oil spill crisis in the Gulf as a way to advance this job-killing energy plan.

It’s been one year since the House passed the Waxman-Markey cap and tax bill. I voted against it because the agriculture industry would not survive under the heavy burdens of a cap and tax plan where higher production costs would be a certainty.”

Farm Bill Issues

Francis X. Gilpin reported on Monday at The Fayetteville Observer Online (North Carolina) that, “Three congressmen from the Cape Fear region brought the U.S. House Agriculture Committee to Fayetteville on Monday to hear from constituents with wish lists for a 2012 farm bill.”

“Rep. Mike McIntyre, who wielded the chairman’s gavel, reminded those listening to the hearing on the Internet that taxpayer support of agriculture is modest compared with what farmers do for the country.”

The article noted that, “Laurinburg cotton farmer Allen McLaurin sounded a cautionary note about biofuels, which speakers touted as a technological breakthrough that will lessen American dependence on foreign oil while giving farmers another market for fiber crops.

“‘While the cotton industry supports a viable biofuels industry, it must be recognized that benefits are not equally shared by all commodity producers,’ McLaurin said. ‘Renewable fuels mandates and other policies regarding biofuels have changed the competitive balance between commodities, placing severe pressure on cotton infrastructure in certain parts of the Cotton Belt. Mandated demand can result in excessive and harmful market distortions.’

“Clarkton peanut grower Dan Ward criticized a U.S. Department of Transportation proposal to ban bags of peanuts on domestic flights, an accommodation to passengers who are allergic.”

Meanwhile the AP reported yesterday that, “Most parents think childhood obesity is a problem. Just not their kids’ problem.

“An annual obesity report by two public health groups includes more bad news – obesity rates increased in 28 states last year – and also a new survey of parental attitudes about the issue. The survey shows an increasing awareness of obesity and its threat to public health, though that knowledge has yet to translate into results.”

The article stated that, “The new survey shows that 84 percent of parents believe their children are at a healthy weight, even though nearly a third of children and teens are considered obese or overweight.”

Also yesterday, the AP reported that, “American farmers are producing more food than ever, but agricultural research is too focused on increasing production and needs to do better at considering consequences such as water and air pollution, according to a report issued Tuesday by a federal advisory group.

“The National Academies’ National Research Council report found that farmers are being asked to produce more and more food to sustain the world’s population, but with little focus beyond how many bushels of grain or pounds of vegetables or meat they can generate.”

The article added that, “One agricultural economist, however, said he worries that shifting resources or focus away from production could create problems.

“‘We’re still looking at a situation where we have population growth, so we’ve got to meet those needs,’ said Gary Schnitkey, a professor at the University of Illinois. ‘I think there’s too little research on agricultural productivity. We’ve got to keep increasing output from these acres.’”

Ag Economy

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its monthly Agricultural Prices report yesterday, which noted in part that, “The corn price, at $3.38 per bushel, is down 10 cents from last month and 63 cents below June 2009 [related graph]; the soybean price, at $9.39 per bushel, decreased 2 cents from May and is $2.01 below June 2009 [related graph]; the June all wheat price, at $3.80 per bushel, is down 53 cents from May and $1.92 below June 2009 [related graph]; and, the June all milk price of $15.80 per cwt is up 70 cents from last month and $4.50 from June 2009 [related graph].”

Animal Agriculture

The New York Times editorial board opined today that, “The Food and Drug Administration is taking some long overdue but still too timid steps to rein in excessive use of antibiotics in American agriculture. For years now industrial and many smaller-scale farmers have routinely fed antibiotics to their cattle, pigs and chickens to protect them from infectious diseases but also to spur growth and weight gain while using less feed. That may be good for agricultural production, but it is almost surely bad for the public’s health.”

The Times stated that, “The [FDA’s] draft guidance is a statement of principles that is open for comment and could ultimately lead to regulatory action. Past efforts to restrict agricultural antibiotics have had only limited success; the powerful agricultural lobbies usually prevail over public health advocates. We can only hope that the F.D.A. will be more successful this time.”

Food Safety

A news release from USDA yesterday stated that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today took another step in the agencies’ collaborative efforts to measure progress in reducing illness, harm, and death from contaminated food by announcing two joint public meetings to hear stakeholder presentations on measuring progress on food safety. The two meetings are being held in Chicago, Ill., on July 21, and in Portland, Ore., on October 20.”

“At the two public meetings, the agencies will hear presentations from any interested stakeholder, including members of consumer groups, industry, public health experts, and state and local regulators on the measurements they recommend or are using to assess performance in food safety.”

Trade

Kevin Bogardus reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Business associations are raising the lobbying stakes on legislation that would remove the American travel ban and boost U.S. farm sales to Cuba.

“In an unusual move, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a letter to House Agriculture Committee members warned it could score House floor votes on the bill that the panel is marking up Wednesday. Such letters typically aren’t sent until a day before a floor vote.”

The article noted that, “In the letter from Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s chief lobbyist, the group says it will consider scoring votes on the measure if it reaches the floor.

“Since 2007, the Chamber has only sent two other letters to lawmakers on Cuba-related legislation. Neither included language indicating the Chamber planned to score votes.

“Chamber officials said there simply have not been votes in the full House or Senate on bills dealing with Cuba for several years that rose to the level of a priority vote for the trade association.”

Financial Reform

Jia Lynn Yang reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Lawmakers who thought they were done negotiating the final version of financial regulatory legislation reconvened Tuesday after key Republican supporters threatened to bolt in a sudden dispute over how the bill would be funded.

“In a last-minute scramble, Democratic leaders reopened talks on the legislation after Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) withdrew his support because of a plan to pay for the financial overhaul with a fee on large banks and hedge funds that would raise nearly $20 billion.

“To win back Brown’s support — and get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster — the House-Senate conference committee agreed Tuesday to instead end the Troubled Assets Relief Program early and shift some of the bailout effort’s funds toward the financial regulation bill, a move that would yield an estimated $11 billion. The rest would come from raising premiums paid by commercial banks to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., whose fund serves as a safety net for consumers when their banks fail. Only banks with more than $10 billion in assets would pay the higher premium.”

The Post article added that, “Democratic leaders had planned to deliver the bill to President Obama to sign into law by July 4, but the Senate banking committee’s chairman, Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), said Tuesday that the Senate might miss that deadline and vote on the bill after its recess next week. Timing has become complicated because the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) is scheduled to lie in repose on the chamber’s floor Thursday. The House could vote on the legislation as soon as Wednesday.”

Keith Good

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