February 21, 2020
Newsom follows through on lawsuit
Gov. Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced yesterday they have filed a lawsuit that was first promised in October. The legal action is in response to President Trump following through on the new biological opinions for Delta pumps.
The claim, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, calls Trump’s environmental review “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and otherwise not in accordance with law.” Newsom and Becerra argue the federal agencies did not adequately gauge the risk to critically endangered species or incorporate public input. They warn another lawsuit over the U.S. Endangered Species Act will come within 60 days.
Newsom, however, in a statement maintained his goal is “to realize enforceable voluntary agreements.”
Responding to the lawsuit, Interior Sec. David Bernhardt said the state “just launched a ship into a sea of unpredictable administrative and legal challenges.”
Keep in mind: California Natural Resources Sec. Wade Crowfoot said earlier this week that without voluntary agreements, the regulatory process and subsequent litigation could take 7-20 years to resolve.
Legislature will debate the role of pesticides at schools, along with the value of ag sustainability
Several new measures relating to agriculture have popped up among the hundreds of bills being introduced in the Legislature this week.
Most notably, Irvine Republican Asm. Steven Choi is proposing a grant program to help schools transition to organic pesticides. The aim is to study the financial impacts on school districts for banning chemical pesticides.
Sen. Bill Monning of Monterey County has a bill that would require employers to notify H-2A workers of their federal and state rights.
Two Bay Area Democrats have introduced a measure that would add funding to CDFA’s water efficiency program as well as technical assistance on irrigation and nutrient management for disadvantaged farmers.
Asm. Eduardo Garcia of the Coachella Valley wants to start a rangeland conservation program with a bill he has introduced. It would fall within the state’s existing Farmland Conservancy Program.
Alameda County Asm. Bill Quirk has a bill that would ensure Delta wetlands are protected within the groundwater sustainability plans being submitted for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
A bill aimed at building climate-resilient communities includes a mention of promoting healthy soils and sustainable ag as well.
Natural Resources is adding an environmental justice role
Natural Resources Sec. Crowfoot mentioned in a talk this week that he will be hiring an assistant secretary for environmental justice. Crowfoot said the agency, which houses the Water Resources and Fish and Wildlife departments, hasn’t “done enough” to engage with this community.
CalEPA has had an environmental justice program in place for over 10 years, Crowfoot pointed out. Yana Garcia is the current CalEPA deputy secretary for environmental justice, tribal affairs and border relations. Before taking office last year, Garcia served as an attorney for Earthjustice. At the time, the advocacy organization was leading lawsuits against the government over banning pesticides like chlorpyrifos.
CalEPA did hire a deputy secretary for agriculture in May 2019. It was the first time the agency had offered this position since the 1990s. But within a month, the new deputy secretary, Val Dolcini, took on the role of interim director for the Department of Pesticide Regulation, which later switched to a permanent position. The ag position has been vacant since.
A role for an agricultural liaison does not currently exist at the Natural Resources Agency.
California Farm Bureau opposes split-roll tax and Prop 13 bond
An initiative gathering signatures for the November ballot would establish a split-roll property tax by reassessing commercial and industrial property, including agricultural facilities. The board of directors for the California Farm Bureau was concerned the measure would disproportionately impact rural areas.
“Although its backers claim agricultural land would not be affected, the initiative would trigger annual tax reassessments at market value for agricultural improvements such as barns, dairies, wineries, processing plants, vineyards and orchards,” said CFBF President Jamie Johansson.
A separate bond measure on the statewide ballot next month is also being opposed by the bureau’s board.
Prop. 13 would put $15 billion in general obligation bonds toward funding new buildings for schools and colleges. The bureau’s board members worried it would allow schools to increase borrowing at a cost to taxpayers. Like the state’s Republican lawmakers, they pointed to the $7 billion in reserves for funding such projects.
USDA shifts on climate
USDA is making some subtle but significant shifts on climate policy that stand in stark contrast with the rest of the Trump administration.
In addition to announcing a set of goals for reducing agriculture’s carbon emissions and overall environmental impact, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also told reporters Thursday carbon pricing could be used to pay for farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Perdue didn’t quite endorse carbon pricing but he came close: “If it is a social goal and social priority there, then let’s put a price over carbon emissions, and I think you can really see farmers show out in their carbon sequestration efforts.”
Keep in mind: By releasing the goals in an election year, there’s no guarantee Perdue will be around to follow through on them. USDA released targets in 2015 that fell by the wayside after President Barack Obama left office.
Read more here about the plan that was announced at USDA’s Ag Outlook conference.
Perdue pressing USDA role on gene-editing animals
Perdue is raising the possibility that USDA could take over some regulation of gene-edited animals, an idea that would cheer the livestock industry. But it’s far from clear how close USDA is to a deal with FDA, which currently has full responsibility in that area.
No trade boom in forecast
USDA is projecting only a modest increase in exports for fiscal 2020, despite the “phase one” trade deal with China. Exports are forecast up $4 billion to $139.5 billion, a $500 million increase from USDA’s November forecast. The fiscal year runs through September.
By the way: There has been concern that the coronavirus outbreak would delay talks between U.S. and Chinese officials on removing non-tariff barriers on U.S. ag products such as beef, dairy, fruit and vegetables, but that’s not the case, says Michael Ward, USDA’s senior agriculture attaché at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
Survey: Producers guarded on 2020
Producers aren’t looking for a lot of improvement in farm finances this year, according to an informal survey of American Farm Bureau Federation members. Some 46% of those surveyed said they expect farm profitability to be lower this year and 36% expect it to be about the same, says AFBF’s chief economist, John Newton.
Sources: India deal not imminent
No trade deal of any size with India is expected in the near future, sources tell Agri-Pulse ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to the country next week. Trump said earlier this week that a large, comprehensive trade deal with India wouldn’t be possible until much later and possibly not this year.
He said it:
“Cutting green tape is not about cutting environmental regulations.” – Sec. Crowfoot, defending his new initiative for streamlining the permitting process for restoration projects.
Steve Davies, Bill Tomson, Ben Nuelle and Hannah Pagel contributed to this report.
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