FarmPolicy

July 21, 2018

Disaster Aid; Climate Issues; Biofuels; Farm Bill; Ag Production Issues; and Trade

Disaster Aid

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The White House has promised Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln that the Obama administration will provide $1.5 billion in agriculture disaster assistance to Arkansas farmers by administrative action.

“Lincoln, D-Ark., said Thursday she agreed to let Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., remove her disaster aid package from a small business bill that he was trying to get the Senate to adopt.

“‘While I firmly believe agricultural producers are rural small businesses — it was clear the Republicans pulled out all the stops to block my legislation,’ Lincoln said in a statement. ‘In exchange for pulling ag disaster from the small business bill, I have secured an agreement from both Majority Leader Reid and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and have their commitment to deliver critical agriculture disaster assistance administratively in the next two weeks.’”

Mr. Hagstrom added that, “The aid package would give producers who suffered crop losses in counties USDA declared ‘primary’ disaster areas $1.1 billion in payments. In addition, it would give $300 million to specialty crop producers, $50 million to livestock producers and $42 million to cotton seed handlers. It also earmarks $75 million for Arkansas poultry producers who took losses due to the bankruptcy of Pilgrim’s Pride and provides $20 million in aid to Hawaiian sugar producers.”

Alexander Bolton reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “President Obama is looking to throw a life preserver to farmers in Arkansas and elsewhere with an administrative action worth $1.5 billion.

The action will help one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable Senate incumbents.”

The article noted that, “White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has promised endangered Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas that the administration will help farmers in her state stay in business.

“Emanuel called Lincoln on Thursday morning to tell her the administration would find $1.5 billion within its budget to help farmers in Arkansas and around the country who are coping with natural disasters.”

Mr. Bolton explained that, “Emanuel’s promise ensures farmers in Arkansas will get help regardless of the fate of the small-business legislation. The GOP filibuster has forced Democrats to shelve the bill, at least for now.”

Note also with respect to the small-business legislation that, Kevin Bogardus reported on Wednesday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Black farmers have received a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that the Senate will vote Wednesday on a $1.15 billion settlement resolving long-standing discrimination claims.

“Reid offered the commitment in a meeting Wednesday with John Boyd Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, according to Boyd. He said would move a measure to appropriate funds for the settlement the black farmers reached with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Boyd said the settlement would come up for a vote as part of an amendment that would expand Medicare benefits to the small-business loan bill. Boyd had a noon meeting with Reid.”

An additional article regarding USDA civil rights issues was also published in today’s Washington Post, “Native American farmers and ranchers press USDA on bias complaints.”

Climate Issues- Legislation

Katie Howell and Robin Bravender of Greenwire reported on Wednesday at The New York Times Online that, “House and Senate Democrats are in a race against the clock to pass sweeping offshore drilling reform legislation before leaving for the August recess.

“The House plans to debate its drilling safety and reform bill (H.R. 3534 (pdf)) Friday before heading out of D.C. through September. And the Senate plans to vote on its scaled-back energy and spill response measure before the end of next week, when it leaves town.

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) released the text of the Senate legislation (pdf) late last night. It and the House bill have many similarities, especially the provisions that come in response to the Gulf of Mexico disaster.”

Darren Goode reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “The White House is ‘strongly’ supporting a pending House Democratic oil spill bill that has met with some resistance from conservative and centrist members of the party.”

Meanwhile, in an article yesterday, Reuters writer Richard Cowan provided an outline of potential legislative scenarios that could play out on energy initiatives in the near term.

One potential outcome included in the Reuters analysis: “Once both chambers pass an energy bill, they could name negotiators to work out a compromise that would then have to be voted on before sending the legislation to President Barack Obama for enacting into law.

“The fate of some of the most controversial items would be decided by the House and Senate ‘conferees’ — including the kind of liability cap and whether the federal government should ban companies with poor safety records from new offshore drilling.

“This could play out sometime between mid-September and whenever Congress recesses so members can campaign at home for re-election on November 2.”

In a related article regarding a potential House-Senate conference scenario, Robin Bravender of ClimateWire reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “Although many climate advocates have turned their hopes to slipping cap and trade into a House and Senate conference bill after the elections, the uphill climb to 60 Senate votes likely won’t get easier during a lame-duck session.

“White House spokesman Robert Gibbs energized climate advocates this week when he suggested climate provisions that passed the House last year could be added to a narrower Senate bill during conference negotiations in the fall. Gibbs told reporters he ‘certainly wouldn’t rule it out.’

But while Democrats in Congress could attempt to use the conference to advance climate measures that did not directly pass the Senate, analysts say the political landscape likely won’t be any better in a lame duck for cap and trade, which would still need 60 Senate votes to overcome a likely filibuster.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley A. Strassel noted in today’s paper that, “As congressional Democrats plotted how to make their ‘oil-spill’ legislation a political liability for Republicans, and as Republicans flapped over how to avoid that fate, one GOP member excused himself from the circus. California Rep. Devin Nunes instead unveiled his ‘Energy Roadmap,’ [text, summary] a companion bill to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan for tax and spending reform. Mr. Nunes wants to get his party thinking about a modern, principled energy policy.”

Ms. Strassel added that, “The Californian’s road map is the product of years of work, most recently with Mr. Ryan and a handful of Republicans with energy expertise—Illinois’s John Shimkus, Utah’s Rob Bishop, and Idaho’s Mike Simpson. It’s a bill designed to produce energy, not restrict it. It returns government to the role of energy facilitator, not energy boss. It costs nothing and contains no freebies. It instead offers a competitive twist to government support of renewable energy.”

With respect to agriculture and the energy bill process, a news release Wednesday by the National Farmers Union (NFU) stated that, “[NFU] expressed strong support for a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) in the Senate’s pending energy legislation. Joined by other agriculture groups in a letter to Senate leadership, NFU emphasized the critical importance of including a 25 percent RES as the Senate takes up consideration of energy legislation.

“NFU is deeply concerned that current legislation introduced by Majority Leader Reid does not include RES provisions.”

And a news release Wednesday by American Farmland Trust stated that, “‘In dropping the negotiations on clean energy and climate change, the Senate has missed an opportunity to take proactive steps to benefit the environment and U.S. farmers,’ says Jon Scholl, President, American Farmland Trust (AFT). ‘The House worked hard to negotiate a viable approach to clean energy and climate legislation that included a Renewable Energy Standard, and opportunities for farmers to be paid for eco-friendly practices.’

“‘Our nation faces a difficult energy future if we continue to rely on foreign oil. The Senate’s failure to act to significantly lessen our reliance on foreign oil now means we also face an uncertain environmental future. Since the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling mandating EPA to enact regulations because greenhouse gasses (GHG) are a danger to human health, farmers now face the prospect of regulatory restrictions rather than opportunities to provide offset credits and other benefits,’ added Scholl.”

Climate Issues- EPA’s Endangerment Finding

Darren Samuelsohn reported yesterday at Politico that, “The Environmental Protection Agency Thursday rejected an effort to keep it from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, saying that e-mails released in last fall’s ‘Climategate’ scandal gave it no reason to reconsider the science of global warming.

In a sternly written opinion, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said she didn’t agree with requests from the GOP attorneys general from Texas and Virginia, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative groups that questioned the underlying science linking humans to global warming and also warned of the potential economic burdens from new climate rules.

EPA last December concluded that greenhouse gases are a threat to public health and welfare, a decision clearing the way this spring for climate-based regulations for new cars and trucks. Next year, the agency is expected to write standards for power plants and other major industrial sources of heat-trapping gases.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “EPA’s critics are also trying to stop the agency on Capitol Hill. A House Appropriations subcommittee last week rejected an amendment to EPA’s annual spending bill to put a two-year hold on EPA’s climate rules for power plants. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) earlier this week filed a similar proposal to the small-business bill now on the floor, though it’s unlikely she’ll win a vote because of unrelated hurdles for the bill.”

Biofuels

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “Leaders of a powerful House committee are raising concerns with the Obama administration about its move to raise the limit on the amount of ethanol that can be added to gasoline.

“In a seven-page letter today to the Environmental Protection Agency, top Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked a series of questions as to whether increased ethanol content would damage engines or increase air pollution.”

In a letter to the editor published in yesterday’s Washington Post, Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen noted that, “The July 24 editorial ‘Cornucopia’ failed to provide readers with needed context about biofuels, misled them about the nature of U.S. ethanol production and offered no alternative for reducing America’s addiction to oil.”

And a news release from Growth Energy yesterday stated that, “The New York Times’ July 29th Editorial ‘Energy Subsidies – Good and Bad,’ mischaracterizes Growth Energy’s proposal to open the American transportation fuels market and fails to acknowledge the technological advancements that have made ethanol production cleaner and more efficient, according to a statement by Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis.”

Farm Bill

A news release yesterday from Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) indicated that, “[Sen Chambliss] and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, today raised concerns in a letter sent to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the department to take deficit reduction seriously. The Senators questioned USDA’s willingness to target farm safety net programs while protecting discretionary programs despite steady increases in the last two budget cycles. They also stressed that efforts to change rules in the middle of a farm bill only breed uncertainty and affects planting decisions, farm lending, equipment purchases and land values.

“‘We openly question why USDA would require ‘flexibility’ from OMB to cut mandatory farm safety net programs to meet discretionary funding reductions,’ said the Senators in the letter. ‘While the total cost of the discretionary fiscal year 2011 budget request was lower than the fiscal year 2010 appropriations act, the cost savings was largely achieved through increased savings from mandatory programs, not from true discretionary savings. Simply put, honest budgeting requires that discretionary savings come from reductions to discretionary programs. We believe the President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 should be based on honest budgeting.’”

Ag Production Issues

James Kanter reported in today’s New York Times that, “Many Europeans recoil at the very idea of cloning animals. But a handful of breeders in Switzerland, Britain and possibly other countries have imported semen and embryos from cloned animals or their progeny from the United States, seeking to create more consistently plump and productive livestock.

And although no vendor has publicly acknowledged it, meat or dairy products originating from such techniques are believed to be already on supermarket shelves.”

The AP reported this morning that, “A disagreement among poultry producers about whether chicken injected with salt, water and other ingredients can be promoted as ‘natural’ has prompted federal officials to consider changing labeling guidelines.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture had maintained that if chicken wasn’t flavored artificially or preserved with chemicals, it could carry the word ‘natural’ on the package.

“But the agency agreed to take another look at its policy after some producers, politicians and health advocates noted that about one-third of chicken sold in the U.S. was injected with additives that could represent up to 15 percent of the meat’s weight, doubling or tripling its sodium content. Some argue that could mislead or potentially harm consumers who must limit their salt intake.”

And Tom Polansek reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “U.S. wheat export sales were double what some analysts had forecast, yet another sign that global supplies are tightening.

“Growers in the U.S., the world’s biggest exporter, last week struck deals to export 919,900 tons of the golden grain, according to the latest data issued Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That topped estimates ranging from 250,000 to 450,000 tons.

U.S. wheat prices have surged nearly 49% from a nine-month low in June to Thursday’s session high as a severe drought has hit the grain belts of the former Soviet Union, which in recent years has emerged as a force in the world grain trade. Nearby September wheat rose 12 cents, or 1.9%, to $6.2750 a bushel after hitting an eight-month intraday high of $6.32 on the Chicago Board of Trade. European wheat prices were near two-year highs.”

Trade

A news release from yesterday by the American Soybean Association (ASA) stated that, “[ASA] this week suggested key steps to meeting President Barack Obama’s National Export Initiative (NEI) goal of doubling exports in the next five years in comments to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The comments came in response to a request from the Obama Administration published in the June 30, 2010, Federal Register.

“‘Soybeans and soybean products are the most important U.S. export commodity, with export sales exceeding $21 billion last year,’ said ASA President Rob Joslin, a soybean farmer from Sidney, Ohio. ‘This represented over 50 percent of U.S. soybean production and 21 percent of total U.S. ag exports in 2009. In short, soybean producers are in the vanguard of efforts to improve the U.S. trade balance.’”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) penned an opinion item yesterday at The Hill Online (“Trade, travel with Cuba the right policy, right now”), which noted in part that, “It isn’t every day a coalition of more than 140 organizations including Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the American Farm Bureau Federation all agree on a bill before Congress. But, in the case of the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, H.R. 4645, these groups and many more agree this is the right policy at the right time for the people of Cuba and the United States.”

After additional analysis, Chairman Peterson stated that, “Opponents of this legislation have tried to change the debate by complaining about delayed passage of pending free trade agreements. This bill can be passed while the work on free trade agreements continues. We can and must focus on more than one thing if we are going to expand and improve the U.S. economy.”

Keith Good

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