FarmPolicy

October 23, 2014

Biotechnology; Climate Regulation; Budget; Farmers Markets; and Political Notes

Categories: Budget /Climate Change

Biotechnology

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “USDA should have been seeking a better balance between biotechnology and organic production before lawsuits locked up the department’s regulatory process over Roundup Ready alfalfa and sugar beets, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last week.

“In an interview with DTN/The Progressive Farmer, Vilsack explained the goal of a recent meeting between stakeholders in both biotechnology crops and non-biotech farming was to serve as the first step toward a path in which both sectors of agriculture can grow and be profitable. Finding some regulatory middle ground for biotechnology crops will be a major initiative for USDA throughout 2011.

“‘This is a discussion because of technology obviously being adopted very rapidly by American agriculture while at the same time we’re seeing this explosive expansion of farmers who want to be able to plant organically. The question as we consider these technologies is how to make sure every person has the capacity and the ability to farm [in a way] that’s best for them,’ Vilsack said. ‘What we have now in both the alfalfa and the sugar beet circumstances is the courts intervening and restricting the rights of what some people want to do with their land.’”

The DTN article noted that, “The problem is vexing, Vilsack said, because biotechnology offers the ability to increase production, meeting the world’s need for more food for a larger population. Meanwhile, organic and non-biotech production have become a growing trend, allowing more people to enter and make a living in agriculture.

“A 191-page transcript of the meeting highlights the broad group of people who attended and the variety of views expressed. The initial focus was to detail the Roundup Ready alfalfa environmental impact statement (EIS), but quickly became clear that the alfalfa EIS would lead into a much broader discussion of how USDA may handle biotechnology oversight in the future.”

Mr. Clayton pointed out that, “The goal, the Secretary said, is to find the elusive middle ground so that the decision-making process by USDA isn’t so cumbersome. Vilsack wants broader conversations between stakeholders because everyone involved recognizes the current process isn’t working.

“‘The reality is if we continue to let things go the way they have, we’re going to have court case after court case after court case,’ Vilsack said. ‘You are going to have a substantial amount of uncertainty in the markets which will make it difficult for farmers to be able to make decisions. And then you are going to have lawsuits where farmers are suing other farmers and judges who have very little flexibility on the rulings they can fashion so basically they will say ‘You can’t plant that crop because you will affect their crop’ or ‘You are going to have to plant that crop somewhere else.’ Then you are going to have a circumstance where judges are telling people who can farm and who can’t.’”

Meanwhile, Reuters news reported yesterday that, “China’s National People’s Congress, or parliament, is proposing legislation on the management of genetically modified (GMO) food, the official Xinhua news agency said in a report seen on Monday.

The legislation will cover the import and export of GMO food and production, development and research of GMO grains.

“China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection is preparing a law on overall GMO safety, while parliament’s agriculture and rural affairs committee is proposing a law specifically about GMO food, Xinhua said, without saying when it might become law.”

Yesterday’s article noted that, “Last year the Ministry of Agriculture’s biosafety committee gave the first safety approval for GMO strains of rice and corn, paving the way for a large scale commercial production of those GMO strains within 2-3 years.

But the approval has caused controversy in the country about whether the GMO strain of rice, the staple food for 1.3 billion people, is safe.”

Climate Regulation

Robin Bravender reported yesterday at Politico that, “Jan. 2 isn’t just your ordinary Sunday.

It’s the day the Obama administration will officially start regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and critics have issued dire predictions of economic destruction.

“With all the fiery rhetoric about how damaging the regulations could be, the White House is under pressure to fulfill its pledge to tackle climate change while avoiding the appearance that it’s hindering job growth.”

The Politico article stated that, “GOP lawmakers have already launched a series of efforts to hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency — and that’s before the rules have even officially kicked in. Those efforts are expected to increase in frequency and in force in the next Congress as Republicans claim the House majority and industries continue to lobby furiously against the greenhouse gas regulations.

“Incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) last week accused EPA of advancing a ‘long regulatory assault’ against domestic energy producers. ‘The EPA has its foot firmly on the throat of our economic recovery,’ he said. ‘We will not allow the administration to regulate what they have been unable to legislate.’

“Blasting the agency’s climate rules has become popular sport in both chambers of Congress and even among some Democrats.”

Yesterday’s article explained that, “President Obama and top EPA officials insist they would have preferred comprehensive climate legislation to a regulatory scheme, but they say they’re legally bound to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act after the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA that ordered EPA to determine whether the heat-trapping gases endanger public health and welfare.

“And within the confines of the law, the administration argues it’s doing the best it can.

“‘The Clean Air Act is a tool,’ EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in an October interview. ‘It’s not the optimal tool, but it can be used, and in fact, I’m legally obligated now to use it.’”

Rep. Fred Upton, the chairman-designate of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Tim Phillips, penned an Op-Ed piece that was published in today’s Wall Street Journal (“How Congress Can Stop the EPA’s Power Grab”) which noted that, “On Jan. 2, the Environmental Protection Agency will officially begin regulating the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This move represents an unconstitutional power grab that will kill millions of jobs—unless Congress steps in.

“This mess began in April 2007, with the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. The court instructed the agency to determine whether greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide pose (or potentially pose) a danger to human health and safety under the Clean Air Act. In December 2009 the agency determined they were a danger—and gave itself the green light to issue rules cutting CO2 emissions on a wide range of enterprises from coal plants to paper mills to foundries.”

The opinion piece added that, “The best solution is for Congress to overturn the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas regulations outright. If Democrats refuse to join Republicans in doing so, then they should at least join a sensible bipartisan compromise to mandate that the EPA delay its regulations until the courts complete their examination of the agency’s endangerment finding and proposed rules.”

Concluding, the authors noted that, “The day after the recent midterm elections, President Obama was asked about the voters’ repudiation of cap and trade. He responded: ‘Cap and trade was just one way of skinning the cat; it was not the only way. It was a means, not an end.’

“Cuts in carbon emissions would mean significantly higher electricity prices. We think the American consumer would prefer not to be skinned by Obama’s EPA.”

Budget

Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal 2012 will be released in mid-February, a little more than a week after its planned release date. The administration is scrambling to assemble what could be a pivotal document following a six-week delay in the confirmation of the White House’s new budget director, a senior administration official said Monday.

“The budget’s release date will be pushed back from Monday, Feb. 7, to some time the following week, the official said. The White House’s new budget director, Jacob Lew, saw his confirmation put on hold by Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who was protesting the administration’s moratorium on offshore oil drilling. Mr. Lew was confirmed Nov. 19.”

The Journal article pointed out that, “The spending blueprint for fiscal 2012 could be momentous. Mr. Obama has promised spending cuts that will embody the ‘shared sacrifice’ he says is needed to tame the $1.3 trillion budget deficit. It is also expected to launch broader debates about reshaping the U.S. tax code to make it simpler and to bring in more revenue. It also is likely to refer to changes the administration says need to be made to Social Security to secure the system’s long-term solvency as the nation’s population grows older.

Regardless of the president’s proposals, the Republicans who will be controlling the House next year have vowed to make deeper cuts. Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) has pledged to reduce domestic federal spending to the levels of 2008, before the financial crisis and the recession. White House officials have said cuts of that magnitude would imperil the economic recovery.”

Farmers Markets

The AP reported yesterday that, “A growing number of farmers markets are extending their operation into and through the winter months — even in cold-weather states like Massachusetts. The expansion comes as more farmers are prolonging their growing seasons with greenhouses and other methods. It’s also fueled by an increased number of people who aim to eat locally produced food year-round.

“There are at least 898 winter farmers markets running nationwide, a 17 percent increase from two years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A winter market is defined as one that operates between November and March,” the article said.

Political Notes

Tricia Miller reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad may be in for a wild ride next year. Though the North Dakota Democrat hasn’t announced whether he’ll run for re-election, at least half a dozen Republicans have been mentioned as Conrad opponents and it seems someone is already polling voters about potential candidates.

“Conrad hasn’t struggled for re-election in the past, and his 2006 re-election was even easier than previous races.”

The Roll Call article noted that, “Conrad, 62, has many factors to consider. He decided to stay as chairman of the powerful Budget Committee in the 112th Congress instead of moving to the Agriculture Committee. Just before Christmas, the state Supreme Court rejected a ‘Recall Conrad’ effort spearheaded by tea partyers and the conservative American Civil Rights Union. The attorney general and secretary of state, both Republicans, had previously refused to take up the cause.

Conrad is a close friend and ally of President Barack Obama, who’s also up for re-election in 2012. Conrad was one of Obama’s first endorsements from Senate colleagues during the brutal primary against then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), and the North Dakotan campaigned for Obama before the Iowa caucuses.”

Joseph Morton reported on Sunday at the Omaha World-Herald Online that, “U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson [D-Neb.] will still have plenty of sway when the 112th Congress convenes Jan. 5, but the Nebraska Democrat’s role could shift.

“For two years his party has been at or near 60 Senate seats, the chamber’s magical threshold to shut down filibusters and advance legislation.

“That breakdown is what put Nelson in a position to cast the dramatic deciding vote in favor of a sweeping overhaul of the health care system at this time last year. But on Nov. 2, voters thinned the Democrats’ ranks. The Democrats will count 53 senators in their caucus next year, and the U.S. House will be controlled by the Republicans.”

The article noted that, “Nelson’s influence in the next session compared with being the 60th Senate vote ‘really goes down, given the shrunken majority,’ said Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University.

“But the new math also means Nelson should have opportunities to try to be a consensus builder across the political aisle, she said.”

Nelson expects to retain his seat on the Agriculture Committee, which will begin discussing the next farm bill, and he expects to continue as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on strategic forces,” the article said.

And Kyle Trygstad reported today at Roll Call Online that, “As the 112th Congress gets set to open, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already begun strategizing for 2012 as it seeks to cut into the new Republican House majority.

“Democrats are weeding through November’s election returns to decipher which Members are the most vulnerable Republicans, beginning with those who won marginal districts. Among others, the committee will target Republicans who won districts President Barack Obama carried in 2008 and those who won with 55 percent or less — the mark used as a ceiling for competitive races.

“According to a Roll Call count, 32 Republicans fit both criteria. They include incumbents and newly elected Members from all regions of the country, though two-thirds hail from the Northeast and Midwest.”

Keith Good

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