The Trump administration’s rewrite of National Environmental Policy Act regulations “upends virtually every aspect of NEPA and its longstanding practice, contradicts decades of court interpretations of NEPA’s mandates, and undercuts the reliance placed on NEPA by the public, decisionmakers, and project proponents,” a lawsuit filed Wednesday says.
In their complaint filed in San Francisco, 20 plaintiff environmental groups said the July 16 rule “limits the scope of actions to which NEPA applies, eviscerates the thorough environmental analysis that lies at the heart of the statute, reduces the ability of the public to participate in federal agency decision-making, and seeks to limit judicial review of agency NEPA compliance.”
Among the plaintiffs: Alaska Community Action on Toxics, National Wildlife Federation and Environmental Defense Fund.
Keep in mind: Litigation may not be opponents’ only avenue of attack. The rule could be subject to reversal through the Congressional Review Act. Read our story here.
US-China tensions edge toward ‘tipping point’: business official
Building tensions between the U.S. and China have yet to stop agricultural trade between the countries, but that time could come, says Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council.
China’s increased militarization in the South China Sea, the shuttering of consulates over U.S. spying allegations, China’s constriction of Hong Kong freedoms, and U.S. accusations over the spread of COVID-19 “are just adding fuel to what was already a raging fire,” Allen said in a Wednesday presentation to the U.S. Grains Council.
“Trade officials are telling us that despite the geopolitical tensions between the two countries, negotiations are going well,” Allen said. “At the same time, there may be a geopolitical tipping point and I do worry about it.”
Roberts: Specificity on ag provisions in coronavirus relief up to Perdue
Some ag groups and other lawmakers would like to see more specificity in the agriculture provisions in the latest coronavirus relief bill, but Senate Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts tells Agri-Pulse that should be left up to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
“I think that’s probably a place where it should be, given the amount of money,” Roberts said. The HEALS Act introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this week would provide $20.5 billion to help support agricultural producers, growers, and processors impacted by the coronavirus.
By the way: Agri-Pulse’s Ben Nuelle caught President Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on his way to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Wednesday afternoon. He said talks are going very slowly. After the meeting, Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin both said the talks were still very far apart.
Perdue slams EU environmental farming plan
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue went on the offensive Wednesday against the European Union’s new plans to slash farmers’ use of pesticides, fertilizer, antibiotics and medicated feed, calling the EU’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies dangerous to the profitability of farmers and their ability to be competitive in the global market.
In a webinar that also featured European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski, Perdue said he’s worried the strategies “will be extremely trade-prohibitive and jeopardize agricultural output. If I was an EU farmer, I’d be very concerned about this strategy and the policies that will follow. When innovative tools are taken away from a farmer, the only choice is protectionism, which isn’t healthy for Europe or the United States.”
But Wojciechowski stressed that European farms are generally smaller than those in the U.S., and its new proposals will “strengthen the resiliency” of that land and protect it for the next generation of farmers.
House passes inland waterway funding legislation
The Water Resources Development Act of 2020, which passed the House by voice vote Wednesday afternoon, would increase the federal government’s cost-share for inland waterways projects to 65%, with the rest coming from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The current cost-share is 50-50.
“This adjustment will ensure that projects like the Navigation & Ecosystem Sustainability Program can begin sooner, be completed sooner, and provide our agriculture sector the benefits of more efficient river transportation,” Waterways Council President and CEO Tracy Zea told Agri-Pulse.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved its WRDA bill May 6. EPW Chair John Barrasso said he looks forward to working with the House when the bill goes to conference.
Biofuels groups pressure Congress to be specific on relief
Biofuel producers say there is still time to make sure renewable fuels assistance is specifically addressed in the upcoming coronavirus relief bill from Congress.
Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper said the language isn’t clear on how or whether ethanol producers would benefit from being included as “agricultural processors” in the GOP bill’s agriculture relief provisions released Monday.
“What is clear is that USDA is seeking unambiguous direction from Congress with regard to distributing assistance for ethanol producers,” Cooper said in a statement to reporters.
According to Energy Information Administration data for the week ending July 24, ethanol production increased by 5.5% — equal to 40.24 million gallons daily. However, production is still 7.1% below the same week in 2019 due to COVID-19 travel impacts.
Anti-hunger advocates push for Congress to boost SNAP funds
Food advocates are pressing Congress to stay in Washington until lawmakers increase the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit by 15% in the upcoming coronavirus relief bill.
Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center, says the Senate plan falls “woefully short” of the investments needed to address food and economic hardship.
“SNAP is the nation’s first line of defense against hunger and it also stimulates the economy which is why it is so important for us to have this conversation,” Guardia said on a webinar Wednesday.
While we’re on the subject: USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released its June 2020 Cost of Foods Report Wednesday and announced a more than 5% increase in the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan from last year, which means a boost in SNAP maximum benefits.
“The new maximum benefit – or allotment – for a household of four will be $680, an approximate 5.3% increase over the current maximum allotment of $646,” FNS said.
FRAC’s Ellen Vollinger argued the report does not do enough for SNAP households and wants Congress to also increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 in the next package.
He said it: “With this strategy, it appears that Europe has forgotten the farm in Farm to Fork.” – Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue criticizing the EU’s new proposal to boost organic farming and slash agricultural use of antibiotics and other technologies that U.S. producers use.
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