Washington Week Ahead: House Republicans take aim at environmental rules

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 5, 2015 -Lawmakers head into the final stretch before the August recess with a bunch of unfinished business, including fiscal 2016 appropriations bills, highway funding and the country-of-origin labeling law for meat.

The House resumes debate Tuesday on the Interior-Environment funding bill (HR 2822) that contains a series of policy riders attacking President Obama's regulatory agenda. More such provisions could be added on the floor.

Before the August recess, lawmakers' to-do list will include an extension of highway funding as well as a decision about whether to repeal the COOL law to avoid retaliatory tariffs. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has been searching for a compromise that can get through the Senate.

Republican leaders have continued to move appropriations bills although they appear headed toward a showdown with the White House this fall over spending levels. Senate Democrats have pledged to filibuster all the bills until Republicans agree to increase spending.

Amendments that have been proposed to the House Interior-Environment bill include measures that would block the Fish and Wildlife Service from enforcing the Endangered Species Act listing for the lesser prairie chicken and another that would bar the implementation of land-use management plans for the sage grouse. There is also an amendment that would bar the agency from enforcing the ESA listing for the gray wolf in three Western states.

The bill, which largely mirrors the Interior-Environment measure that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved last month,already includes riders to block the administration from enforcing its rule re-defining the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act or from lowering the limit for ground-level ozone. Both bills also would continue to block the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the sage grouse under the ESA and would force the delisting of the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Great Lakes area.

Lets Talk Food

The Senate bill already has a provision to suspend the agency's enforcement of its listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species.

The rule re-defining the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) is likely to be a topic on Thursday when the House Science, Space and Technology Committee brings EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to the latest hearing on what Republicans call her agency's “regulatory overreach.”

Some 27 states and a coalition of industry groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers filed a series of lawsuits last week challenging the rule.

House Appropriations marks up Ag bill

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up its fiscal 2016 spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration. The bill increases food safety funding for the FDA and provides more money for combatting the avian flu and boosting rural development programs at USDA while cutting conservation programs and energy spending.

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., is expected to offer an amendment to continue the ban on horse slaughter, a provision that has previously received bipartisan support.

The bill already includes riders to delay the FDA's menu labeling requirement for restaurants, supermarkets and delis, and to restrict the kind of recommendations that can be included in the new dietary guidelines. Democrats may try to remove the provisions, but Republicans have had no trouble protecting such riders in committee.

Senate committees examine flu response

The Senate Agriculture Committee and the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committees will hold back-to-back hearings this week looking into the avian flu outbreak. USDA's chief veterinary officer, John Clifford, will testify at both meetings. At the Homeland Security hearing, which will also look at the human health threat, he'll be joined by Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

In an epidemiology report released last month, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said that lapses in biosecurity played an important role in spreading the virus. The report cited evidence that a cluster of farms was affected by identical viruses, pointing to possible transmission among those farms.

Last week, Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote administration officials raising concerns that the outbreak could threaten supplies of human vaccines and possibly spread to people through swine.

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

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Monday, July 6

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


Tuesday, July 7

1 p.m. - Food and Drug Administration public meeting for scientists, entrepreneurs and others to present novel or advanced methodologies for detection of foodborne pathogens, College Park, Md.

3 p.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on avian influenza, 328-A Russell.

3 p.m. - Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee markup of its fiscal 2016 bill, 116 Dirksen.

Wednesday, July 8

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on the rural economic impact of exporting crude oil, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the president's international climate agenda and its implications for domestic policy, 406 Dirksen.

10:15 a.m. - House Appropriations Committee markup of the fiscal 2016 Agriculture bill, 2359 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on avian flu, 342-Dirksen.

Thursday, July 9

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

9:30 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on international food aid, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on EPA's “regulatory overreach,” 2318 Rayburn.

10:30 a.m. - Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the State-Foreign Ops bill, 106 Dirksen.

Friday, July 10

Noon - USDA releases monthly Crop Production report and World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates.

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