News Clips May 22, 2015



1. Senate takes 'major step forward' on trade bill

2. Obama set to strengthen federal role in clean water regulation

3. Senate Ag Committee approves grain standards bill

4. Mixed reaction on COOL repeal bill

5. Mexico weighs U.S. meat product sanctions after WTO ruling

6. Gas prices not affected by Renewable Fuel Standard


1. Senate takes ‘major step forward’ on trade bill


Philip Brasher

May 21, 2015


The fast-track trade bill cleared another hurdle as the Senate voted to move ahead on the legislation, 62-38, after a deal was reached to vote separately on the Export-Import Bank.


Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the cloture vote a “major step forward,” but talks continued on a series of possible amendments.


Thirteen Democrats voted for the motion to end debate on the text of the Trade Promotion Authority measure, which is being inserted into a House-passed tax bill (HR 1314) for procedural reasons. The TPA bill would establish the fast-track process for approving new trade agreements, and extend Trade Adjustment Assistance programs, which provide payments and technical help to workers, farmers and businesses hurt by imports.


Several Democrats, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Washington's senators, held back their votes on the cloture motion for an extended time while they huddled with top Republicans.


Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell had been demanding a vote on extending the Ex-Im Bank. The Boeing Co., a huge employer in her state, is a major beneficiary of the bank. After a final huddle with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, she and home-state colleague Patty Murray voted for the cloture motion.


Cantwell told Agri-Pulse she was promised a Senate vote in June on the Ex-Im Bank. Prior to the vote, President Obama personally committed to getting the Ex-Im extension done as part of his "trade agenda," she said.


"We can't have TPA and not have Ex-Im Bank. He's very committed to getting us action in the House on that issue," Cantwell said. 


House conservatives are determined to block an extension of the Export-Import Bank, putting pressure on the Senate to make the first move in some fashion. The bank's legal authority expires at the end of June. 


House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday he promised the chairman of the House Financial Services, Committee, Ex-Im opponent Jeb Hensarling, that there would be an open amendment process in the House if the Senate sends over an extension measure.


McConnell, R-Ky., has pledged to finish the TPA bill this week. 


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2. Obama set to strengthen federal role in clean water regulation

The New York Times

Coral Davenport

May 22, 2015


The Obama administration is expected in the coming days to announce a major clean water regulation that would restore the federal government’s authority to limit pollution in the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands.


Environmentalists have praised the new rule, calling it an important step that would lead to significantly cleaner natural bodies of water and healthier drinking water.


But it has attracted fierce opposition from several business interests, including farmers, property developers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, oil and gas producers and a national association of golf course owners. Opponents contend that the rule would stifle economic growth and intrude on property owners’ rights.


Republicans in Congress point to the rule as another example of what they call executive overreach by the Obama administration. Already, they are advancing legislation on Capitol Hill meant to block or delay the rule.


The announcement of the rule could come as soon as Friday. If not, it is likely to happen next week, people with knowledge of the plans said.


The water rule is part of a broader push by President Obama to use his executive authority to build a major environmental legacy, without requiring new legislation from the Republican-controlled Congress.


This summer, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release a final set of rules intended to combat climate change, by limiting greenhouse gas pollution from power plants. Mr. Obama is also expected to announce in the coming year that he will put vast swaths of public land off limits to energy exploration and other development.


“Water is the lifeblood of healthy people and healthy economies,” Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A.’s administrator, wrote in an April blog post promoting the water rule. “We have a duty to protect it. That’s why E.P.A. and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are finalizing a Clean Water Rule later this spring to protect critical streams and wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction.”


But even as E.P.A. staff worked this month to finish the rule, the House passed a bill to block it. The Senate is moving forward with a bill that would require the agency to fundamentally revamp the rule.


“Under this outrageously broad new rule, Washington bureaucrats would now have a say in how farmers, and ranchers, and families use their own property,” said Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming and the chief author of the Senate bill.


“It would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate private property just based on things like whether it’s used by animals or birds, or even insects,” he said.

“This rule,” he added, “is not designed to protect the traditional waters of the United States. It is designed to expand the power of Washington bureaucrats.”


The E.P.A. proposed the rule, known as Waters of the U.S., last March. The agency has held more than 400 meetings about it with outside groups and read more than one million public comments as it wrote the final language.


The rule is being issued under the 1972 Clean Water Act, which gave the federal government broad authority to limit pollution in major water bodies, like Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River and Puget Sound, as well as streams and wetlands that drain into larger waters.


But two Supreme Court decisions related to clean water protection, in 2001 and in 2006, created legal confusion about whether the federal government had the authority to regulate the smaller streams and headwaters, and about other water sources such as wetlands.


E.P.A. officials say the new rule will clarify that authority, allowing the government to once again limit pollution in those smaller bodies of water — although it does not restore the full scope of regulatory authority granted by the 1972 law.


The E.P.A. also contends that the new rule will not give it the authority to regulate additional waters that had not been covered under the 1972 law. People familiar with the rule say it will apply to about 60 percent of the nation’s waters.


“Until now, major bodies of water were protected under the law,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, a spokeswoman for Environment America, an advocacy group. “But they can’t be fully protected unless the streams that flow into them are also protected.”


The rule will also limit pollution in groundwater and other sources of drinking water. Polluted groundwater is now chemically treated before being used as drinking water.


“We could spend a lot of money to massively treat the water that we drink, but it makes a lot more sense to protect the source,” Ms. Ouzts said.


A coalition of industry groups, led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, has waged an aggressive campaign calling on the E.P.A. to withdraw or revamp the rule.


Farmers fear that the rule could impose major new costs and burdens, requiring them to pay fees for environmental assessments and to obtain permits just to till the soil near gullies, ditches or dry streambeds where water flows only when it rains. A permit is required for any activity, like farming or construction, that creates a discharge into a body of water covered under the Clean Water Act or affects the health of it, like filling in a wetland or blocking a stream.


“It’s going to cause a nightmare for farmers,” said Don Parrish, the senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.


“Our members own the majority of the landscape that’s going to be impacted by this,” he said. “It’s going to make their land, the most valuable thing they possess, less valuable. It could reduce the value of some farmland by as much as 40 percent. If you want to build a home, if you want to grow food, if you want a job to go with that clean water, you have to ask E.P.A. for it.”


The lobbying fight over the rule has also generated a public-relations battle over social media.


In its protest of the rule, the American Farm Bureau Federation started a social media campaign, using the Twitter hashtag #DitchTheRule, to urge farmers and others to push the E.P.A. to abandon or revamp the rule. The E.P.A., in response, created a campaign with the hashtag #DitchTheMyth, urging people to speak out in favor of the rule. But some legal experts contend that campaign might have tested the limits of federal lobbying laws, which prohibit a government agency from engaging in grass-roots lobbying for proposed policies or legislation.


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3. Senate Ag Committee approves grain standards bill


Whitney Forman-Cook

May 21, 2015


The Senate Agriculture Committee today unanimously approved a bill reauthorizing the Grain Standards Act, including a provision that would ensure export grain inspections continue during labor disputes.


The House passed its version of the bill late last month. It, like the Senate bill, is designed to avoid a repeat of what happened last year at Washington's Port of Vancouver when state inspectors refused to go to work during a labor demonstration, citing safety concerns. Washington is one of five states where state agencies conduct export inspections under authority of USDA.


Under the House bill, inspectors from one of the other four states would also be allowed to step in and do the work if the host state inspectors won't.


The Senate bill would mandate the Agriculture Secretary to make policy changes that would prevent, as well as to take immediate action if and when, another disruption in inspection occurs. The USDA would also be required to keep Congress abreast of its plans to resolve any such disruption until inspections have started again. The House bill has a similar provision.


“Voting in favor of this legislation is an important first step in making sure that our grain inspection system continues to facilitate U.S. exports,” Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said about the Senate bill. “Transparency and predictability are key to maintaining a positive global reputation,” he continued, not only for our trading partners, but also for “our farmers in Kansas and all across the country.”


Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called the Senate bill “thoughtful and responsible” and said it would help keep the U.S. “the No. 1 farm goods exporter worldwide” and protect the estimated 1 million U.S. jobs generated by American agricultural exports.


Stabenow said she hoped the bill would reach the Senate floor soon, and be passed into law before Sept. 30 when authorization for the existing law expires.


USDA's Federal Grain Inspection Service directly inspects about two-thirds of exported grain, including shipments through Louisiana and Texas, and delegates the work to state agencies in five states: Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. USDA declined to intervene in the shutdown of Washington inspections, citing the same safety issue.


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4. Mixed reaction on COOL repeal bill

DTN Progressive Farmer

Jerry Hagstrom

May 21, 2015


Reactions to the House Agriculture Committee's approval Wednesday of a bill to repeal country-of-origin labeling for beef, pork and chicken, ranged from praise to accusations of "a gross overreach of congressional authority."


The bill, H.R. 2393, was written in reaction to a ruling by the World Trade Organization on Monday that the U.S. country-of-origin labeling program for beef and pork violated U.S. trade obligations because it discriminated against Canadian and Mexican producers. Canada and Mexico have threatened to retaliate against U.S. products if the program continues.


One of the bill's co-sponsors, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, noted that he had supported labeling, but believed "there was a way for packers to accommodate the situation." King noted that some packers said they would not accept Canadian pigs, while others said they would only accept them on Mondays.


Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., another bill co-sponsor, emphasized that it is important to avoid retaliation because Canada has threatened to increase tariffs on California wine.


"This no longer about labeling, it is about potential harsh retaliation," Costa said.


House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who voted against the bill, acknowledged that he "thought the language in the 2008 farm bill was something we could all live with, but that wasn't the case." Still, he said, "Repealing COOL is premature."


"Of course no one wants to see retaliation, but it's important to point out that there are still several steps that have to occur before that would take place," Peterson continued.


"Given what we have seen in the past -- it took 15 months for the arbitration panel to issue a ruling in the U.S.-Brazil cotton case -- it's unlikely the panel will rule on COOL retaliation within their 60-day window. I think we should take a serious look at the mandatory labeling requirements that are in place in more than 60 other countries," Peterson said.


"EU [European Union] labeling rules, for example, require indication of the country of birth, fattening and slaughter. If a cow is born, raised, and slaughtered in the same country, then that is the country of origin. Imported beef can be labeled as 'non-EU' if information is not available. For meats originating from countries where information about the animal may be unknown, the system allows for alternative claims of origin," Peterson said.


Peterson added, "I don't think this is the best way to avoid retaliation and, quite frankly, I don't think the Senate will be able to pass a repeal. I would suggest that we instead take some time to thoughtfully consider our next steps."


The North American Meat Institute, which represents the packers, praised the vote and urged Congress to repeal the program.


"The U.S. made a promise to live up to its WTO obligations," said NAMI President and CEO Barry Carpenter. "We have not kept that promise and WTO panels have told us so four times. It's time we listen. Today's action is the first step towards full repeal and can help the United States avoid the retaliatory tariffs promised by Canada and Mexico."


The United States Cattlemen's Association, which has favored labeling, called the legislation "a gross overreach of congressional authority."


"Not only does the proposed legislation attempt to circumvent an ongoing case at the World Trade Organization, regarding COOL, it also extends the criteria by which to repeal COOL," said USCA President Danni Beer.


"The addition of chicken to the list of products to be affected by the repeal is disturbing since chicken was not a part of the original WTO case filed by Canada and Mexico against COOL," Beer noted.


"Opponents of COOL are encouraging Congress to limit consumer information and are exploiting a ruling by the WTO before the international trade process has been completed," she said. "Congress does not need to insert itself until statutory action is necessary."


"For USCA, the centerpiece of COOL has been, and always will be, the consumers' right to information about how and where their food is produced and U. S. ranchers' right to differentiate their product from that of a generic commodity in which the identity of U.S. beef would be lost forever," Beer said.


National Chicken Council President Michael Brown said the chicken industry had asked to be included in the repeal of labeling because industry leaders believed that Canada and Mexico might retaliate against U.S. chicken.


"While we cannot speak on behalf of Canada and Mexico as to why they limited their WTO appeal on COOL to pork and beef, we are keenly aware that chicken was near the top of the list for retaliation by both countries," Brown said.


"NCC supports legislative action that will allow U.S. laws and regulations pertaining to meat and poultry to be compliant with our international trade obligations."


Brown also said potential imports of Chinese chicken had nothing to do with the decision, although he added that if China can meet U.S. standards it should be allowed to export to the United States.


"We don't expect any chicken to be imported from China. More than 99% of the chicken we eat in the U.S. is hatched, raised and processed here," NCC spokesman Tom Super added in an email.


Brown declined to comment on why the chicken industry had asked to be included in the labeling program some years ago, noting he was not working for NCC at that time.


The House action and the WTO decision will also apparently pave the way for labeling of venison.


The House bill specifically continues labeling for lamb and venison, and labeling those products is not considered to be a problem because the animals are raised and slaughtered within the same country.


Section 12104 of the 2014 farm bill added venison to the list of commodities to be labeled, but USDA has not required them or listed venison as a covered product.


"That will require rulemaking, which we were waiting to do because of the WTO litigation," Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Anne Alonzo said in an email.


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5. Mexico weighs U.S. meat product sanctions after WTO ruling


Noe Torres

May 21, 2015


Mexico said on Thursday it would decide within about 15 days what sanctions to impose on U.S. meat products if the U.S. Congress does not comply with a World Trade Organization ruling on labeling.


On Monday, the WTO ruled that U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) laws discriminated against imported meat from Mexico and Canada.


"We have our teams prepared and working, specialists in international case the U.S. Congress doesn't comply," Enrique Martinez, Mexico's agriculture minister, said at a news conference.


"I think in some 15 days we will have a clearer idea," Martinez added, of "what the sanctions would be."


On Wednesday, U.S legislation to repeal the meat labeling laws was approved by the House of Representatives Agricultural Committee. The chairman of the committee has said he expected an early June vote on the bill.


Since 2009, U.S. retail outlets have been required to use labels such as "Born in Mexico, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States" to give consumers more information about the safety and origin of their food.


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6. Gas prices not affected by Renewable Fuel Standard


May 21, 2015


Retail gas prices from 2013 through the first quarter of 2015 were unaffected by prices for RIN credits that are used to demonstrate compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard. Renewable Fuel Association Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper says that’s contained in a new study released by Informa Economics.


Cooper says EPA and the President need to keep these study results in mind when they release the renewable fuel obligations next month for 2014, 2015 and 2016.


He says Informa’s numbers in this study are confirmed by former White House Economic Advisor James Stock.


Cooper says this proves that RIN prices are not connected to retail fuel prices.


To listen to the interview, follow this link:




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