The biofuel industry is eagerly anticipating a decision from the Trump administration on future small refinery exemptions this week, while Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue heads to Capitol Hill for a grilling on the Market Facilitation Program, food stamps and other issues. 

This week also is a pivotal week for the presidential campaign. Voters in 16 states and territories, including Texas and California, will go to the polls Tuesday in the Democratic presidential primary. 

The Super Tuesday voting comes on the heels of former Vice President Joe Biden’s substantial victory in South Carolina on Saturday. An estimated one-third of the party’s pledged delegates will be at stake on Tuesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce any day what it will do about an appeals court ruling on the small refinery exemptions, or SREs. 

On Friday, Perdue told farmers at the annual Commodity Classic that EPA would “significantly” reduce the number of SREs this year as a result of the court case. Last year, refiners were given 31 exemptions. 

After his speech, Perdue told reporters that the ruling could even be a “moot point,” because President Trump is committed to ensuring that refiners use at least 15 billion gallons of ethanol this year, the minimum requirement under the Renewable Fuel Standard. “The president had already committed before that 10th Circuit decision that the 15-billion statute is going to be 15 billion,” Perdue said. 

Perdue is scheduled to speak on Monday at the National Farmers Union’s annual convention in Savannah, Ga., and then on Wednesday he will be testifying before the House Agriculture Committee. 

Democrats on the panel will be questioning Perdue over the fairness of the 2019 MFP payments as well as cuts that he is making administratively to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Perdue also will be getting questions about the department’s implementation of the 2018 farm bill. 

“I want him to give us complete information and not skirt around our questions,” Rep. Marcia Fudge, who chairs the subcommittee that has oversight responsibility for nutrition programs and department operations. 

Fudge plans to press Perdue on a SNAP rule that would eliminate some 700,000 enrollees from the program, but she also wants him to fix staffing shortages across the department.

“The department is woefully understaffed. I want to know why we can’t get employees,” she said.

Fudge said she is also not satisfied with where MFP money has gone. “We’ve gotten the data and what we have found is that it has gone to the most wealthy farmers 90% of the time,” Fudge noted.

Some congressional Democrats, citing the MFP county payments, have accused Perdue of unfairly favoring southern farmers. However, an Agri-Pulse analysis of actual payments showed that they broadest concentration was in the upper Midwest and northern Plains, with some pockets of high payments in California, Texas and the lower Mississippi valley. 

The committee’s senior Republican, Mike Conaway, R-Texas, told Agri-Pulse he wants to hear about the progress of the implementation of the 2018 farm bill.

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“We’re now in the second year, are there kinks, are there cockleburs on the implementation side and the state of the overall economy,” Conaway said.

When it comes to MFP, Conaway disagrees with Fudge, saying he thinks Perdue has done a good job structuring both the 2018 and 2019 programs.

“Both were structured differently and obviously they used a different structure for the second payment. If there is a third payment, which most of us think there should be, then we will have to look at which particular commodities were affected the most,” Conaway said.

Members of NFU will pick a new president on Monday afternoon to replace the retiring Roger Johnson. Rob Larew, NFU’s senior vice president for public policy and communications, is seeking the top job, and two other state leaders filed for the race: Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union, and Mike Eby, a board member of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union. 

All of NFU's presidents have come from the Dakotas and Minnesota since the 1980s. Larew grew up on a West Virginia dairy farm, but he has worked mostly for Minnesota’s House and Senate members, including House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson, for over two decades.

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

Monday, March 2

National Anti-Hunger Conference, through Tuesday, Omni Shoreham. 

National Farmers Union annual meeting, through Tuesday, Savannah, Ga. 

The National Association of Counties (NACo) will convene its annual Legislative Conference through March 4.

Tuesday, March 3

10 a.m. — House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the U.S. Agency for International Development, 2359 Rayburn. 

President Donald Trump will headline the NACo conference on Tuesday March 3.

Wednesday, March 4

9:30 a.m. — House Interior-Environment Appropriations subcommittee hearing with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Rayburn 2359. 

10 a.m. — House Agriculture Committee hearing with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, 1300 Longworth. 

10 a.m. — Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, 124 Dirksen. 

10:30 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on the impact of invasive species on Bureau of Reclamation facilities and management of water resources. 

Thursday, March 5

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

10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the U.S. and international energy outlook, 366 Dirksen. 

Friday, March 6

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