July 13, 2020
Following debates on water and Trump, Newsom signs resources bill
Before convening for what has become a month-long recess, the Senate battled over an omnibus trailer bill on public resources for the state budget.
Among the debates, Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield pushed back on a State Water Board proposal to skip environmental reviews for water rights certifications. She called it “just another assault on our water supply for our farmers" that would harm Central Valley jobs as well as food security.
Republican Jim Nielsen of the Sacramento Valley said it was part of continuing trend of granting “more power and authority” to state agencies. “Unless it is litigated, then it stands,” he said.
Moderate Democrat Anna Caballero of Salinas also voted against the measure, saying it would have “a deleterious impact on a major energy producer in my region.” She feared it would inhibit the Merced Irrigation District’s effort to renew a federal license for its hydropower system.
Defending the measure at length, Bob Wieckowski of Fremont said, “It simply preserves the state of California's rights that the Trump administration is attempting to take away at this moment.” He said the administration’s proposed changes to the Clean Water Act would “drastically roll back” the board’s authority for this and seven other projects for the next 50 years.
On that note: The trailer bill also removed a provision for the Air Resources Board to reopen rulemaking on the state’s cap-and-trade market. “Instead, the Newsom administration and the CalEPA secretary have made a commitment to work with this legislature” on upgrading the program, according to an administration official.
ICYMI: After two assemblymembers and several staff members tested positive for COVID-19, both house leaders decided last week to extend the summer recess until July 27 to allow for quarantine and a deep cleaning of the Capitol.
USDA: Remaining aid out by end of August
When USDA announced its coronavirus relief payment plan it wasn’t clear when – or even whether – farmers would get all of the payments that they are eligible for.
Now, Bill Northey, USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation, tells Agri-Pulse there should be enough money on hand to give farmers the remaining 20% of what they are due under the $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Northey says farmers should be getting those final payments by the time signup for CFAP ends Aug. 28.
“We’d like to be able to do it earlier than that,” Northey said. “If we can look and see that we’re going to have plenty of dollars yet, of course we haven’t even announced the third group of commodities yet and we’re still partway through signup.”
Last week, USDA announced decisions on dozens of additional specialty crops were made eligible for CFAP payments.
Take note: As of this month, USDA has an additional $14 billion available in its Commodity Credit Corp. account. Northey says the department is awaiting direction from Congress in the form of a new coronavirus aid package. The next round of CFAP payments is expected to compensate farmers for losses that have occurred since mid-April.
“Congress has said very clearly that they recognize the losses are well beyond that $16 billion” being provided through CFAP, Northey said.
House Appropriations moves ahead on FY21 bills
The House Appropriations Committee will wrap up its work this week on its fiscal 2021 spending bills, setting up floor action for after the full House returns to action a week from now.
On Friday, the committee approved the Interior-Environment bill on a party-line 30-19 vote. The legislation includes funding for EPA, the Interior Department and the Forest Service.
The committee adopted an amendment to the bill that would block EPA from finalizing its scientific data transparency rule that was first proposed in 2018. The rule is aimed at requiring that data used to support regulatory actions be publicly available. Critics say it would make it more difficult to use science in developing regulations. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.
The Interior-Environment bill would increase EPA’s budget by $318 million to $9.38 billion. The White House had proposed by cut EPA’s budget by more than $2 billion.
Today, the committee will take up its FY21 Energy-Water bill, which funds the Army Corps of Engineers.
Also this week: On Tuesday, Republicans in Texas’ 13th District will pick a nominee to replace retiring Rep. Mac Thornberry. The runoff pits cattle industry leader Josh Winegarner against former White House physician Ronny Jackson, who has President Donald Trump’s support.
The Democratic Party’s platform drafting committee meets Wednesday.
Virtual town halls to focus on trade
With fairs and other ag exhibitions shut down this summer, several farm organizations will be sponsoring online town halls through August to focus on issues affecting agricultural trade, international supply chains and global competitiveness.
The town halls will be led by ag leaders in five states that will be important in the fall election: Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Agri-Pulse President Sara Wyant will moderate the Iowa event on July 30.
Subsequent events have been tentatively set for Aug. 6 in Minnesota, Aug. 13 in Michigan, and Aug. 27 in Pennsylvania. The Wisconsin data has yet to be determined.
COVID-19 surge could slow FDA inspection efforts
FDA’s efforts to resume “prioritized domestic inspections” of food establishments may be hampered by the rising tide of coronavirus cases.
FDA issued a statement saying it is “working toward the goal of restarting on-site inspections during the week of July 20.” But there were some important caveats.
Said the agency: “We must see downward trends in new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations in a given area.” Other factors include the availability of services such as public transportation.
COVID-19 cases are rising in most states, with Florida reporting more than 15,000 cases on Sunday, the most for any state in a single day.
FDA said “for the foreseeable future, prioritized domestic inspections will be pre-announced to FDA-regulated businesses.”
Lawmaker struggles for herbicide resistance funding
Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington says he’ll continue to push for funding for a new herbicide resistance initiative in the Pacific Northwest after failing to get the issue addressed in the House’s Agriculture appropriations bill.
“Herbicide-resistant weeds fundamentally alter farming systems, forcing many farmers to rotate to less profitable and often less reliable crops,” Newhouse said. “I hope we can get a commitment to work on this with the Senate and in conference to find a solution for this important initiative.”
The impetus for the request comes primarily from the risk to the region’s wheat growers and the possibility that they could be forced to discontinue no-tillage or low-tillage systems in order to control weeds. “Herbicide resistance in weeds threatens the sustainability of our cropping systems” in the region, according to Newhouse’s office.
They said it:
“Given the dire economic recession created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting budget cuts, the citrus industry is incredibly fortunate to have maintained this critical funding.” — California Citrus Mutual on $5 million allocated in the state budget for CDFA to cover research and outreach related to citrus greening
Ben Nuelle and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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