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EPA Issues; Crop Insurance; Biotech; Ag Economy; Biofuels; Organics; Rural Economy; GIPSA; and Political Notes

EPA Issues

A news release yesterday from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated that, “[EPA] has issued its fiscal year (FY) 2011 to 2015 strategic plan, which provides a blueprint for advancing EPA’s mission and Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s priorities.

“This plan presents five strategic goals for advancing the agency’s environmental and human-health mission, accompanied by five cross-cutting fundamental strategies that seek to adapt the EPA’s work inside and outside of the agency to meet the growing environmental protection needs of the day. The plan will guide the agency to foster a renewed commitment to new possibilities for achieving the vision of a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable environment.”

The first goal outlined in the EPA plan, “Taking Action on Climate Change and Improving Air Quality: America’s communities face serious health and environmental challenges from air pollution and the growing effects of climate change. During my first year as Administrator, the EPA finalized an endangerment finding on greenhouse gases, proposed the first national rules to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions under the Clean Air Act and initiated a national reporting system for greenhouse-gas emissions. All of these advances signaled historic progress in the fight against climate change. Climate change must be considered and integrated into all aspects of our work. While the EPA stands ready to help Congress craft strong, science-based climate legislation that addresses the spectrum of issues, we will assess and develop regulatory tools as warranted under law using authority of the Clean Air Act.”

Yesterday’s EPA release stated that, “The Administrator has committed the agency to pursuing these priorities in the years ahead to fulfill EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment. In addressing these priorities, EPA will continue to affirm the core values of science, transparency and the rule of law. The agency sent notification letters to more than 800 organizations and individuals requesting comment on the draft plan.”

Stephen Power reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson isn’t on any ballots this November. But in some parts of the country, she might as well be.

“Ms. Jackson’s agency is becoming a foil for congressional candidates across the country. In South Dakota, Republican Kristi Noem has called for Ms. Jackson’s resignation, citing the EPA’s inaction on a request from ethanol producers to allow more ethanol in gasoline.

“In Arkansas, embattled Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln is blasting Ms. Jackson’s agency for promulgating ‘overreaching, burdensome’ regulations on pesticides used by farmers.”

The Journal article noted that, “The agency’s critics say they are also looking out for ordinary Americans. In West Virginia and Virginia, Democratic Reps. Nick Rahall and Rick Boucher, respectively, are playing up their efforts to stop EPA rules that they say will kill mining jobs.”

“Ms. Jackson, meanwhile, is trying to soothe some of her critics. She met last month with ethanol producers, assuring them she was still considering their request to allow more ethanol in gasoline,” the Journal article said.

More specifically with respect to legislative proposals to delay EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, Darren Goode reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is not committing just yet to backing a plan by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to delay EPA climate regulations, despite opposing the agency’s right to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions.

“‘He is looking at Senator Rockefeller’s proposal and other options carefully,’ a Baucus spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

“Baucus has expressed discontentment with the EPA’s right to regulate heat-trapping emissions under the Clean Air Act before. He filed several amendments seeking to waive EPA’s authority to regulate climate change in last year’s Senate Environment and Public Works debate on cap-and-trade legislation. Baucus cited the lack of agreement on that and other issues in casting the lone Democratic vote, in committee, against the measure. The bill did not advance any further in the Senate this Congress.”

(FarmPolicy Note: A summary of the Senate EPW Committee vote on climate legislation from November 2009 is available here. A Washington Post article from November 6 noted that Sen. Baucus opposed the measure because he said it “would not do enough to protect farmers.”)

Meanwhile, Darren Samuelsohn reported yesterday at Politico that, “Exhausted Democrats may like President Barack Obama’s suggestion of tackling energy and climate change ‘in chunks’ over the next two years after failing to get a comprehensive package across the finish line.

“But they probably know better.”

The article added that, “Schooled veterans of past energy legislative debates are quick to point out that the regional lines are just as entrenched as the partisan ones, leaving few rifle-shot solutions on the front burner. Any piecemeal approaches Obama may have in mind could make industry lobbyists nervous they’ll eventually be cut out. And individual bills are also tempting vehicles for controversial riders that can bog down the whole process.

Add to the mix a wide-open GOP presidential primary, and many longtime observers are doubtful they’ll see much energy progress over the next two years.”

And Reuters writer Richard Cowan penned an interesting overview article yesterday titled, “Scenarios: Republican election impact on climate control.”

In part, the Reuters article pointed out that, “If Democrats do better than expected in November, that could revive efforts in Congress for some sort of limited carbon control legislation.

Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, could bring back their plan to impose a cap on carbon emissions from large electric utilities. Under their bill, pollution permits would be required for each ton of carbon emitted and those permits could be traded on a regulated market, thus setting a price on carbon that in the long-run would make alternative energy sources more competitive.

“Their hope would be that with the congressional elections behind them, senators would be emboldened to take some tough votes and pass a bill that they could argue would supplant more distasteful EPA regulations.”

More broadly on the climate debate, John M. Broder and Elisabeth Rosenthal reported in today’s New York Times that, “With wounds still raw from the chaotic United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen last December, negotiators are making final preparations for next month’s meeting in Cancún, Mexico, in a surly mood and with little hope for progress.

“There is no chance of completing a binding global treaty to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases, few if any heads of state are planning to attend, and there are no major new initiatives on the agenda. Copenhagen was crippled by an excess of expectation. Cancún is suffering from the opposite.”

Crop Insurance

DTN Executive Editor Marcia Zarley Taylor reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Crop insurance agent commissions and company overheads have been put on a diet plan since finalization of the federal government’s recent Standard Reinsurance Agreement. But Risk Management Agency Administrator Bill Murphy is pushing wireless records, GPS mapping technologies and smarter business practices to adapt.

“Agent commissions ballooned 35 percent between 2005-2008, thanks in part to the run up in commodity prices and a national shift toward revenue insurance policies, Murphy says. But given the budget constraints in the next farm bill, ‘Congress is not going to stand for paying $4 billion a year in administrative and overhead expenses,’ he adds. ‘That’s twice what the Farm Service Agency (FSA) spends to administer its programs. They don’t want it to happen again.’

Murphy stresses the FSA isn’t seeking to replace the private crop insurance delivery system, but he says ‘other people in government’ may look at it when farm bill discussions begin in earnest. ‘We need to show we’re efficient and we’re lean,’ he tells agents.”

Yesterday’s DTN article added that, “New technology may prove real industry savings and reduce the drudgery of farmer documentation in the process. Starting with the 2011 crop, the RMA will authorize use of yield monitors as acceptable proof for acreage production reports and production claims. RMA is working with farm equipment manufacturers and software suppliers to help standardize electronic record sharing from your tractor cab to your crop insurance agent’s office, where mapping tools will do much of the compliance paperwork for you.

Ultimately, RMA and the Farm Service Agency also will convert to a single database system, so a farmer’s acreage and yield reporting will be compatible for both crop insurance and farm program purposes. Automating reports at both agencies would also reduce data entry errors and prove a time saver for farmers, Murphy adds.”


AP writer Steve Karnowski reported yesterday that, “This corn turns out to be a very good neighbor.

Corn that’s been genetically engineered to resist attacking borers produces a ‘halo effect’ that provides huge benefits to other corn planted nearby, a new study finds. Since the borers that attack the genetically modified crops die, there are fewer of them to go after the non-modified version.

Given that the corn borer has cost U.S. farmers $1 billion a year, the economic benefits are dramatic, according to the report in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.”

The AP article noted that, “The genetically modified plants, called Bt corn, have had an economic benefit of $6.9 billion during the past 14 years in the five Upper Midwest corn-producing states studied, concluded the researchers. They were led by William Hutchison, head of the entomology department at the University of Minnesota, and Paul Mitchell, an agricultural economist at the University of Wisconsin.”

In a news release from yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was quoted as saying, “Modern agricultural science is playing a critical role in addressing many of the toughest issues facing American agriculture today, including pest management and productivity. This study provides important information about the benefits of biotechnology by directly examining how area-wide suppression of corn borers using Bt corn can improve yield and grain quality even of non-Bt varieties.”

Agricultural Economy

Tom Polansek reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Corn futures climbed Thursday on anticipation that government forecasters will cut U.S. harvest estimates.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected again to lower its projections for crop yields Friday [today], the latest in a series of cuts since predicting a record harvest in August.

Farmers across the Midwest have been reporting weaker-than-expected output as they harvest this year’s corn crop. The poor results are being blamed on excessive rains in June and a hot, dry August.”

Bloomberg writers Daryna Krasnolutska and Kateryna Choursina reported yesterday that, “Ukraine, the world’s largest barley exporter, introduced quotas on outbound shipments of all grains to ensure food security and cap domestic prices, First Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuev said.

“The curbs will probably run through the end of this year, he told reporters today in Kiev, adding that corn shipments will be capped at 2 million metric tons and wheat and barley at 500,000 tons each.

Ukraine is limiting shipments after drought-hit Russia banned all grain exports until after next year’s harvest. The Ukrainian customs service since July imposed additional controls on grain-hauling ships that resulted in delayed deliveries and lower domestic cereal prices.”


The Washington Insider section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Some congressional sources say they believe the odds now are better than 50-50 that before Congress adjourns in December, lawmakers will extend the current 45-cents-per-gallon incentive to blend ethanol. However, they add, it appears likely that the extension would be for only one year, rather than the two years that many had anticipated.

“And, there are indications that ethanol supporters in Congress will need to make a commitment to their colleagues to reform the current biofuels program when the 112th Congress is seated in January in order to get the extension. No clear picture yet on what the reform might entail, but possibilities include a reduction in the tax credit and a shifting of some government support away from ethanol production and to infrastructure projects that would allow ethanol to flow more easily to the consuming public.”


An update posted recently at The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Online (Ninth District) titled, “Organic farming continues to grow in the Ninth District” (by Alison Sexton) stated that, “When you think of organic agriculture, you probably imagine yourself eating leafy greens and other vegetables you buy for a salad. For that reason, you might not think that Ninth District states, which specialize in major commodity crops and livestock, have a large role in organic production.

But, in fact, the Ninth District is a major organic producer, and its organic footprint continues to expand.”

Rural Economy

Earlier this week, the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) updated its Rural Income, Poverty, and Welfare: Summary of Conditions and Trends Online briefing room. In part, the ERS update stated that, “Unprecedented economic growth during the 1990s benefited rural areas, but some of that benefit has since been lost due to nationwide recession. Between 1993 and 2000, real median income for nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) households grew by 10.5 percent and the percentage of people in poverty fell from 17.1 to 13.4 percent. Between 2000 and 2008, nonmetro median household income decreased from $41,145 to $40,785 (in 2008 dollars), while the nonmetro poverty rate rose from 13.4 percent to 15.1 percent. Nonmetro poverty rose again from 2008 to 2009, reaching 16.6 percent, which is the highest rate since 1992 when it was 16.9 percent.”


Reminder: The National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas is hosting a series of workshops, including a webinar, for poultry and livestock producers. At these workshops, staff attorneys will provide an overview of GIPSA’s proposed rule changes for poultry and livestock, review the UDSA rule-making process, explain how to submit comments on the proposed rules, and include a question and answer session. The webinar will be hosted via eXtension for participants around the country and will take place on Thursday, October 14. Details about the webinar can be found here.

Political Notes

Rasmussen Reports. October 7- “Republican Kristi Noem has edged back into the lead over incumbent Democrat Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin in South Dakota’s U.S. House race.”

Plouffe Says Democrats Can Still Hold Majorities.” Roll Call Online. Jackie Kucinich October 7- “[Democratic strategist David Plouffe] was careful to manage expectations during the hourlong briefing but said Democrats had an advantage because they were still gaining momentum in the final weeks of the midterm campaign.”

Bobby Bright won’t vote for Speaker Nancy Pelosi.” Politico. Alex Isenstadt. October 7- “Alabama Rep. Bobby Bright will not vote for Nancy Pelosi to serve as speaker if he wins reelection, the freshman Democrat told a local TV station Thursday.”

Keith Good