The Senate is set this week to pass a landmark land conservation bill over the objections of cattle producers, and President Donald Trump’s trade chief will face questioning by Senate and House panels.
It also will be a busy week in the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as EPA and the petitioner groups in the dicamba litigation file briefs arguing about whether Xtendimax, FeXapan and Engenia can continue to be used on soybeans and cotton this growing season.
EPA issued a cancellation order June 8 saying existing stocks in the hands of applicators and growers can continue to be used, a decision firmly opposed by the four groups that brought the lawsuit. They filed a brief June 11 contending EPA has “flagrantly contravened” the Ninth Circuit order.
On Capitol Hill, the Great American Outdoors Act, which has overwhelming support in the Senate despite opposition from grazing and energy interests, would provide permanent funding of $900 million a year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a portion of which is used to pay for federal land acquisitions. The funding comes from oil and gas revenue.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and state organizations of cattle and sheep producers argue in a letter to Senate leaders that it would guarantee at least $360 million a year for purchasing new federal land at a time when the government can’t maintain the land it has.
"Consideration of this bill comes at a time when Congress has recently provided trillions of dollars in much-needed aid to individuals, businesses, and communities nationwide as a result of COVID-19,” the groups said. “To add billions of dollars to mandatory spending for LWCF is both irresponsible for future Americans who will be forced to confront American debt, and irresponsible for the resource.”
The bipartisan measure would simultaneously provide $1.9 billion a year over the next five years for maintaining public lands. Critics of providing long-term funding for the LWCF have long argued that maintenance needs should take precedent over acquiring new lands.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the legislation would “protect and preserve our nation’s public lands for future generation.”
Getting the bill on the Senate floor was a victory for two vulnerable Senate Republicans, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana.
A spokeswoman for Daines denied that the LWCF purchases amounted to federal land grabs or that federal agencies will be unable to manage their land. “Land acquisition only occurs when there is a willing seller and the project is locally supported. There are agency guidelines in place to ensure both are the case.”
The bill will still need final approval from the House before going to the White House, where Trump has signaled his support.
Trump’s trade policy, including the state of the “phase one” agreement with China will be the focus of congressional attention on Wednesday. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testifies during an online hearing in the morning with the House Ways and Means Committee and then will testify before the Senate Finance Committee in the afternoon.
Trump’s increased criticism of China over the COVID-19 pandemic and the crackdown on Hong Kong also has raised concerns within agriculture about prospects for normalizing trade.
Negotiations with the United Kingdom also are likely to come up during the hearing. British resistance to lifting barriers to U.S. beef and chicken continue to be a sticking point.
In a letter to British lawmakers, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Environment Secretary George Eustice promised not to lower import restrictions that include a ban on using artificial growth hormones or chemical treatments for chicken carcasses. “Decisions on these standards are a matter for the U.K. and will be made separately from any trade agreement,” the letter said.
Also this week, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report is being released Wednesday at an all-day meeting, which is being webcast. The Agriculture Department and Department of Health and Human Services will use the report to write the 2020 guidelines. The DGAC report being released is expected to hew closely and build on recommendations in the 2015 guidelines to lower consumption of processed meats.
The advisory committee’s dietary patterns subcommittee says there is strong evidence to show that diets containing vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, whole grains, fish, lean meat or poultry, and unsaturated vegetable oils are associated with a decreased risk of mortality from all causes.
After the report is released, it will go to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. A new public comment period will start around July 15, with the final report due to be released by the end of the year.
Also this week, the National Academies of Sciences’ Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources will sponsor a webinar Friday on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food and agricultural system, which has experienced severe stress from a combination of factors.
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The speakers will include former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council; Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried; and California produce grower A.G. Kawamura, a former state agriculture secretary.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, June 15
United Fresh Produce Association virtual United Fresh Live! conference, through Friday.
4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, June 16
10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on the energy industry,
10 a.m. — Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auctions, 124 Dirksen.
Noon — House Energy and Commerce subcommittee virtual hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on the energy sector.
Wednesday, June 17
Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee meeting.
10 a.m. — House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee markup of a surface transportation authorization bill, 2167 Rayburn.
10 a.m. — House Ways and Means Committee virtual hearing with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
10 a.m. — Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on lessons learned about telehealth as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 430 Dirksen.
1 p.m. — House Small Business Committee virtual hearing on the Paycheck Protection Program.
3 p.m. — Senate Finance Committee hearing with Lighthizer, G-50 Dirksen.
Thursday, June 18
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases the Weekly Export Sales report.
Friday, June 19
10 a.m. — National Academies’ Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources webinar on the impact of COVID-19 on the food supply chain.
Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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