Washington Week Ahead: Fight set on market rules, Senate set to pass energy bill

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 17, 2016 - Republicans are trying to head off new regulations on poultry and livestock marketing practices as House appropriators debate the Agriculture Department's fiscal 2017 spending bill this week.

USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) is rushing to finalize a rule after Congress failed last year to renew a longstanding prohibition on the regulations. But Republicans plan to propose to reinstate the block on USDA rulemaking when the House Appropriations Committee debates theUSDA funding bill on Tuesday.

GOP Rep. Andy Harris, who represents Maryland's Eastern Shore, a major chicken producer, will sponsor the amendment. He said that the regulations would discourage incentives for farmers to produce the highest quality birds. “As we're going to build up our export economy, I can't understand why we would want to handcuff the poultry industry,” he said.

Other possible amendments would seek to extend a ban on slaughter of horses and to restrict the government's recommendations on sodium in the next revision of the dietary guidelines.

Also this week, the Senate is expected to pass a long-stalled energy bill that Democrats blocked in February over demands for aid to Flint, Michigan. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., lifted a procedural hold last week on the legislation, which would be the most comprehensive overhaul of energy policy since 2007.

The bill, which the Senate is expected to pass on Tuesday, includes popular provisions to update the electricity grid, accelerate the export of liquefied natural gas and promote energy efficiency in homes and businesses. For Republicans, the measure includes incentives for fossil fuels, while for Democrats it would help promote a shift toward renewable power usage.

Lets Talk Food

The Senate will then move to the fiscal 2017 Energy and Water appropriations bill, which funds the Army Corps of Engineers among other agencies. Sen. John Hoeven, D-N.D., said last week that he may seek to attach an amendment that would block the Corps and the EPA from implementing their new “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule, which is now on hold pending court challenges.

A similar WOTUS rider failed to make it into the government-wide spending bill for fiscal 2016 because of strenuous opposition from the White House.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is going forward with a three-day meeting of its science advisers to review epidemiological data on the risks of chlorpyrifos. The agency rejected requests from the pesticide industry for a postponement.

Democratic appropriators look to protect GIPSA rule

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in early May that the GIPSA rule could be ready for public release by late spring or early summer. Later, Ed Avalos, USDA's undersecretary for marketing regulatory programs, told the House Agriculture Committee that the earliest the rule could be ready would be summer or early fall.

But Avalos also suggested that the department may skip a step and issue the regulations in final form rather than as a proposed rule. Avalos said the department already has plenty of input from the public and the industry on the issue going back to 2010.

Democrats on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ensured that the GIPSA rider didn't make it into the draft USDA spending bill. Four of them signed a letter to Vilsack urging USDA to “act expeditiously” on the regulations. The letter was also signed by four Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said that reinstating the block on USDA rulemaking would be “bad for farmers, bad for consumers, and bad for the country. Politically, moving something that eight House and Senate appropriators have already signaled they would adamantly oppose signals a lack of interest in actually getting the agricultural spending bill completed and signed into law this year,” he said.

Harris said his chief concern is to preserve the tournament pricing system, whereby part of a contract chicken grower's payment is based on how well his or her birds perform in comparison to other growers' birds.

Pork producers head to Hill

Some 150 members of the National Pork Producers Council will be in Washington this week to lobby members of the Congress on a variety of issues, including increased funding for USDA to address antibiotic resistance.

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The producers also want funding for development of a vaccine bank for foot-and-mouth-disease. They'll be pushing for approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with resolution of implementation issues involving Australia, Japan and Vietnam, said NPPC spokesman Dave Warner.

He said the producers also will be using lawmakers to oppose a bill called the PRIME ACT that would allow states to exempt custom-slaughtered meat from federal inspection regulations as long as it isn't sold across state lines. “We believe that could lead to food safety issues and undermine consumer confidence in the food supply,” Warner said.

Vilsack, meanwhile, leaves Thursday on a week-long trip to Japan, where he will participate in the G7 agriculture ministers meeting, and then go on to Vietnam.

Here's a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, April 18

National Academy of Sciences study committee meets on “Future Biotechnology Products and Opportunities to Enhance Capabilities of the Biotechnology Regulatory System,” through Tuesday, 2100 C St. NW

Grocery Manufacturers Association Science Forum, through Thursday, Capital Hilton.

9 a.m. - Farm Foundation Forum on “The Cost of Poverty in Rural America.”

10 a.m. - Supreme Court oral arguments in United States v. Texas, the state's challenges to President Obama's executive orders on immigration.

4 p.m. - USDA releases Crop Progress report.

Tuesday, April 19

EPA FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel to review chlorpyrifos, through Thursday, Arlington, Virginia.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on tightening farm credit conditions, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on “opportunities and challenges for oil and gas in different price environments, 366 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, 406 Dirksen.

10:30 a.m. - House Appropriations Committee markup of fiscal 2017 Agriculture spending bill, 2359 Rayburn.

1 a.m. - U.S. Chamber of Commerce forum, “Increased Security and Prosperity: The Immigration Reform Imperative,” 1615 H St. NW.

Wednesday, April 20

Food Tank Summit 2016, American University.

National Pork Producers Council fly-in, through Thursday.

10 a.m. - House Judiciary Committee marks up Defend Trade Secrets Act (S. 1890), 2141 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with EPA Administrator McCarthy, 124 Dirksen.

2 p.m. - House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on barriers to delistings under the Endangered Species Act, first of two-part hearing, 2154 Rayburn.

Thursday, April 21

NPPC fly-in.

Vilsack heads to Japan for the G7 agriculture ministers meeting.

8:30 a.m. - Brookings Institution forum, “Policies to Alleviate Food Insecurity: A Conversation with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.” 775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW

8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

9 a.m. - House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on ESA delisting barriers, second of two-part hearing, 2154 Rayburn.

2 p.m. - Senate Finance Committee hearing on U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 215 Dirksen.

Friday, April 22

#30

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