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EPA Issues; Ag Economy; Biofuels; Farm Bill; Food Safety; and Political Notes

EPA Issues

Darren Samuelsohn reported yesterday at Politico that, “Lisa Jackson is sticking to her guns.

The Environmental Protection Agency finds itself constantly under attack from industry groups and Republicans who say the agency is overreaching on everything from climate change to microscopic soot. And with the failure of the White House and Congress to pass a climate bill, combined with a potential GOP takeover, now could be seen as the right time for the agency’s head to dial back the rhetoric.

“But at an event last month celebrating the Clean Air Act’s 40th anniversary, Jackson swung hard at industry groups, offending some officials in the room and potentially adding fuel to claims the Obama administration is anti-business.”

The article noted that, “‘The Clean Air Act is a tool. It’s not the optimal tool. But it can be used,’ she said. ‘And, in fact, I’m legally obligated now to use it. And so we’ve laid a lot of groundwork on that and we’ll continue.’

Jackson’s shop is now the main battleground in the federal push to fight global warming, as many experts predict Congress will show little appetite to try a comprehensive climate bill again in the near future.”

Mr. Samuelsohn added that, “Enter Jackson, who is pursuing her work, thanks to a 2007 Supreme Court decision clearing EPA to write climate rules as long as the agency could prove greenhouse gases threaten public health or the environment. The first hammer comes down in January with greenhouse gas limits on some of the biggest industrial sources, namely power plants and petroleum refiners, which are already in various stages of the air pollution permitting process.

“An additional set of climate-themed requirements will come in July for both existing and new industrial plants that trigger the permit rules by increasing their emissions.”

In other news regarding climate issues, Reuters writer Chris Buckley reported yesterday that, “The United States and EU said on Wednesday that U.N. climate talks were making less progress than hoped due to rifts over rising economies’ emission goals, while China pushed back and put the onus on rich nations.

“Negotiators from 177 governments are meeting this week in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, trying to agree on the shape of the successor to the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol, the key U.N. treaty on fighting global warming, which expires in 2012.

“Midway through the talks, however, initial hopes that they can deliver progress on trust-building goals have become snared in procedural skirmishing that boils down to feuding over how far rich and emerging nations should curb their greenhouse gas emissions and how they should check on each other’s efforts.”

Separately with respect to the EPA, earlier this week, The Oregonian editorial board indicated that, “A promising fraction of Oregon’s energy now comes from burning wood debris: slash piles on the forest floor from logging or thinning, naturally fallen and decaying trees within uncut forests, wood shavings and bark and trimmings from mill operations. The wood debris, called biomass, produces heat for buildings or electricity for lights and toasters.

“Or none of the above.

That depends upon a decision now before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which considers regulating the carbon dioxide released from burning biomass, a renewable energy source, just as it does coal. To do so would be a crushing blow to a fragile sector at a time we need it most.”

The opinion item added that, “The EPA, under pressure to enforce the federal Clean Air Act, weighs whether to view all CO2 as the same no matter where it comes from — CO2 in the exhaust of PGE’s coal-fired plant in Boardman would be the same as that in the smoke from burning a fallen, beetle-infested Ponderosa pine taken from the Winema National Forest…Much rides on this distinction. And the EPA should snap out of its CO2 myopia by recognizing biomass as a renewable resource, which coal and fossil fuels are not. Regulating biomass facilities to the coal standard would shackle a fledgling industry with hobbling costs.”

Agricultural Economy

The AP reported yesterday that, “U.N. food agencies said Wednesday that 166 million people in 22 countries suffer chronic hunger or difficulty finding enough to eat as a result of what they called protracted food crises.

“Wars, natural disasters and poor government institutions have contributed to a continuous state of undernourishment in some 22 nations, including Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan, the Food and Agriculture Operation and the World Food Program said in a new report.”

Bloomberg writer Rebecca Christie reported earlier this week that, “The U.S. wants to raise $1 billion for a global food security fund by appealing to countries that will meet in Washington this weekend to discuss world financial issues, an Obama administration official said today.

“Marisa Lago, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for international affairs, said the U.S. will ask for money to help farmers in the world’s poorest countries at International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings beginning Oct. 8. The same pitch will be made to Group of 20 finance ministers, central bankers and world leaders when they meet over the next few weeks, she said.

“At stake is the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, an international effort to deliver rapid and dependable financing for farmers. Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the fund was created following a G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh in 2009, and is administered by the World Bank.”

The Bloomberg article noted that, “The new fund, so far, has $880 million in pledges but only $120 million remaining in the bank, Lago said. Five grants were recently approved — totaling $224 million — to Bangladesh, Haiti, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Togo to help enhance productivity and train farmers. Lago said the fund has received requests for close to $1 billion more in aid.”

Meanwhile, DTN Executive Editor Marcia Zarley Taylor reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The precarious world stock situation — particularly for corn — could be the norm for global agriculture over the next decade, not the exception, speakers told 600 attendees at the annual Soya and Oilseed Summit being held here [Minneapolis] this week. But that fine balance between supply and demand spells good news for grain prices long-term and U.S. producers who act as the world’s shock absorber in times of scarcity.

“‘The world is one short crop away from real tension in supply and demand,’ said Soren Schroder, CEO of Bunge North America when outlining his five- to 10-year vision for global ag exports and U.S. competitiveness. ‘God forbid we have one [short crop] in this country.’”

The DTN article indicated that, “Fueling this demand is that between 2000 and 2030, the world will add 770 million people to the middle class who earn $10 to $20 per day. That’s the income segment that will spend more of its budget to improve its diet by consuming more meat, Schroder noted.”

“Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, said he feels like ‘we’re attaching a garden hose to a fire hydrant’ given the volumes of grain and oilseeds that will be needed to meet world food demand.”

Reuters writer Ernest Scheyder reported yesterday that, “Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who runs a DuPont Co committee studying food demand, says African farmers are receptive to genetically modified crops and that he does not expect U.S. food policy to change after fall elections.

“Chemical and agricultural giant DuPont has a large genetically modified crop business, and many see GMOs, as the technology is commonly known, as the best way to meet increasing global food demand.”

Yesterday’s article explained that, “Earlier this year Daschle became the first member of DuPont’s committee on ‘Agricultural Innovation & Productivity for the 21st Century,’ traveling to Africa to talk with farmers about GMOs.”

“On Wednesday, Daschle and DuPont announced the final four members of their food committee. Together, the five members will prepare a report on how DuPont can help meet global food needs.

“The announcement from DuPont comes the same day rival Monsanto Co posted a larger-than-expected quarterly loss.”

In addition, the Reuters article stated that, “Daschle, who represented corn-producing South Dakota in the U.S. Senate for 18 years as a Democrat, said that a possible Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives after next month’s elections would be unlikely to affect food policy.”

Also yesterday, Reuters writer Mica Rosenberg reported that, “Genetically modified corn is trickling into Mexico after overcoming years of legal barriers, but where some farmers see the promise of reduced imports others see a threat to their heritage.”

“Mexico is a major food importer and is finding itself outpaced by agriculture exporting giants like the United States to the north and Brazil to the south. Proponents of GM crops say they could help reverse the trend.”

The article pointed out that, “Mexico is self-sufficient in white corn used to make the daily staple tortillas, but the country imports around 10 million tonnes of GM yellow corn a year for animal feed.”


DTN writer Todd Neeley reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The Governors Biofuels Coalition will ask U.S. Senate leaders to consider several ethanol related tax provisions in any energy and tax bill that comes up for debate following the Nov. 2 election, according to a draft of a letter obtained by DTN that is to be sent to Senate leaders next week.

The group will ask for a one year extension of the volumetric ethanol excise tax credit, or the blenders’ credit, ‘to allow time to transition from a blenders’ credit (i.e., available only to oil companies, blenders and importers) to a refundable credit available only to domestic biofuel producers, for a period of five years,’ the letter said.

“The coalition has proposed cutting in half the 45-cent tax credit and eliminating the 54-cent ethanol import tariff ‘since the new producers’ credit would not be available to importers,’ the letter said.”

Mr. Neeley also provided this quote from the letter: “‘These changes to the ethanol tax credit structure represent a fiscally responsible way to modernize the tax and regulatory framework for the nation’s ethanol industry. For months now, the nation’s ethanol policy leaders have been working diligently to develop sustainable biofuel policy recommendations that will promote private sector investment in an expanded domestic biofuels industry that employs hundreds of thousands of skilled workers in our states and keeps billions of dollars at work in our states instead of paying for imported oil.

“‘We believe these improvements will effectively open the market for biofuels, reduce taxpayer costs by billions of dollars, and enable the domestic biofuels industry to compete on a more level playing field with petroleum transportation fuels,’ the governors wrote in the letter.”

(FarmPolicy Note: For a different look at biofuels policy, see, “Could a Variable Ethanol Blenders’ Tax Credit Work?” by Scott Irwin, Darrel Good, and Mindy Mallory, from the University of Illinois).

Farm Bill

Anemona Hartocollis reported in today’s New York Times that, “Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg sought federal permission on Wednesday to bar New York City’s 1.7 million recipients of food stamps from using them to buy soda or other sugared drinks.

“The request, made to the United States Department of Agriculture, which finances and sets the rules for the food-stamp program, is part of an aggressive anti-obesity push by the mayor that has also included advertisements, stricter rules on food sold in schools and an unsuccessful attempt to have the state impose a tax on the sugared drinks.”

The article stated that, “The mayor requested a ban for two years to study whether it would have a positive impact on health and whether a permanent ban would be merited…‘We appreciate the state’s interest,’ a [USDA] spokesman, Justin DeJong, said. ‘We will review and carefully consider the state’s proposal.’”

Today’s article noted too that, “Congress debated but rejected restricting the purchase of sugared drinks with food stamps as part of a 2008 farm bill, [George Hacker, senior policy adviser for the health promotion project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest] said. But this year, the chairman of the House’s Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, Democrat of Minnesota, said the House should think about such a ban in its deliberations over the next farm bill.”

(FarmPolicy Note: Recall that this article from September 3 stated that, “Peterson said he would also like to take pop, candy and other junk food out of the food support program, which would help to address the growing obesity problem in the nation. ‘I don’t think we should be using taxpayer money to buy that kind of stuff for people,’ he said.).

A related Op-Ed piece regarding the SNAP program and pop was also published in today’s New York Times, “No Food Stamps for Sodas.”

Food Safety

William Neuman reported in today’s New York Times that, “In Henhouse No. 1 at the Hi-Grade Egg Farm here [North Manchester, Ind.], the droppings from 381,000 chickens are carried off along a zig-zagging system of stacked conveyor belts with powerful fans blowing across them.

“The excrement takes three days to travel more than a mile back and forth, and when it is finally deposited on a gray, 20-foot high mountain of manure, it has been thoroughly dried out, making it of little interest to the flies and rodents that can spread diseases like salmonella poisoning.

“Standing by the manure pile on a recent afternoon, Robert L. Krouse, the president of Midwest Poultry Services, the company that owns the Hi-Grade farm, took a deep breath. The droppings, he declared, smelled sweet, like chocolate.”

The Times article noted that, “Controlling manure and keeping henhouses clean is essential to combating the toxic strain of salmonella that sickened thousands of people this year and prompted the recall of more than half a billion eggs produced by two companies in Iowa.”

Mr. Neuman added that, “Mr. Krouse’s farms were not associated with the recall, and a tour of one of them here in northern Indiana shows that much is being done in the egg industry to fight salmonella.

“‘We’ve had to completely change the way we look at things,’ said Mr. Krouse, who is also chairman of the United Egg Producers, an industry association. ‘Thirty years ago, farms had flies and farms had mice, everything was exposed to everything else. They just all happily lived together. You can’t work that way anymore.’”

Today’s article added that, “Today the hens on Mr. Krouse’s farms come from hatcheries certified to provide chicks free of salmonella. The young birds are vaccinated to create resistance to the bacteria. And then steps are taken to keep them from being exposed to it, primarily by controlling mice and flies that may carry salmonella or spread it around.

“That is where the manure drying comes in, although it has other benefits, like preventing bad smells that can bother neighbors.”

Political Notes

Race of the Day: Bringing Home the Ethanol in Iowa,” Marc Ambinder. The Atlantic Online. 10.6- Looks at Congressional race between Iowa Democrat Leonard Boswell, and his GOP challenger, Brad Zaun, a state senator and former mayor of Urbandale.

Democrats Face Pivotal Test in Midwest.” Naftali Bendavid. The Wall Street Journal. 10.7. “In Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, as many as 21 Democratic House seats are in play, plus four Senate seats.”

Keith Good