October 1, 2020
Frustration mounts over fixing Friant-Kern Canal
Friant Water Authority CEO Jason Phillips was disappointed with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto of Senate Bill 559 on Monday, calling it a missed opportunity for the administration.
Phillips yesterday said the bill would have allowed the state “to define appropriate terms for becoming a partner” in a project to repair damage along the Friant-Kern Canal.
“This is just the latest in a long history of snubs from Sacramento,” he said, adding that Newsom’s promise of a more holistic approach to the problem “rings hollow to the San Joaquin Valley.”
Phillips explained that the Friant Water Authority worked in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation for two years to draft a plan and financing for the repairs. The damage is due to subsidence related to groundwater overuse, which was “exacerbated by decades of compounding water regulation by the state and federal governments,” he said.
Newsom appoints an Audubon director to Water Commission
Newsom has appointed Samantha Arthur to the Water Commission. As the working lands director at Audubon California, Arthur has worked with Central Valley farmers to establish bird-friendly practices and habitat restoration as well as groundwater recharge projects.
Arthur spearheaded efforts in 2018 to convince the Fish and Game Commission to list the tricolored blackbird as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act.
Samantha Arthur (photo: Audubon)
USDA awards $72 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants
The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service announced yesterday awards totaling $72 million through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.
The projects will help to increase demand for agricultural goods and help farmers in complying with the Food Safety Modernization Act. The program will also finance research into conservation, improved seeds and pests and disease.
Another $4 million went to food security microgrants.
USDA killing wage survey, raising questions about H-2A rates
USDA has announced plans to kill its survey of farmworker wages, a move the United Farm Workers claims is aimed at cutting wages for H-2A workers. In a notice posted Wednesday, USDA says the fall survey conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service is no longer needed because of data that is available from other sources.
The Labor Department uses the NASS wage survey to set the annual state wage minimums, known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate, or AEWR, for H-2A workers. This year, the rates went up 6% nationally, with farmers in some states seeing increases of up to 10%.
“Instead of providing genuine COVID-19 protections, paid sick leave and hazard pay to field workers, Trump now proposes cutting their wages in the middle of a pandemic that is afflicting them at alarming and increasing rates,” said UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres.
Take note: Representatives of the Labor Department, which sets the AEWR, had no immediate response about the USDA action.
Veronica Nigh, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, called the USDA move “a step in the right direction to ensure the wage setting mechanism for H-2A workers does not encompass flawed data that disproportionately penalizes farmers who rely on guest workers.”
She said, “Nothing in this announcement states an intent to lower wages for domestic and foreign workers.”
Democrats postpone HEROES vote amid talks
House Democrats posted a planned vote Wednesday evening on their scaled-back coronavirus relief bill to allow negotiations to continue with the White House. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was shuttling between Senate and House leadership offices on Wednesday.
A first-term Democrat on the House Ag Committee, Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger, tweeted her support Wednesday evening for a negotiated deal. “When we vote, we must vote on a bill that can pass the Senate, become law, and deliver relief to the Americans who need it. … Passing a partisan bill that won’t become law won’t help working families,” she said.
The House bill includes a number of agricultural provisions, including aid to hog and poultry growers and the dairy industry.
CCC, hemp provisions clear Senate in CR
The Senate easily cleared a continuing resolution to keep the government funded until Dec. 11.
The bill, which passed 84-10, will replenish USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. a $30 billion line of credit that USDA uses to make payments to farmers. The measure also bans CCC payments to oil refiners but exempts biofuel producers.
Another provision will give states another year to submit plans to USDA for managing hemp production; the CR extends the 2014 farm bill's hemp pilot program through September 2021.
The National Industrial Hemp Council and National Association of State Departments of Agriculture were pushing for the extension.
Disaster services strained, lawmakers told
The COVID pandemic and the impacts of climate change are straining the ability of the nation’s emergency management system to handle disaster relief, witnesses told the House Science Committee Wednesday. They emphasized the need for the federal government to conduct more research on the best ways to prepare and respond.
“It should be of grave concern to us all, but to Congress specifically, that as we know our risk to extreme weather events and other forms of disasters is increasing, our ability to manage them is already struggling to keep up,” said Samantha Montano, an assistant professor in emergency management at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
Roxane Silver, a psychology professor at the University of California, Irvine, highlighted the potentially severe mental health impacts of exposure to “cascading traumas” such as COVID, the economic downturn and weather disasters such as this year's derecho, hurricanes and wildfires.
He said it:
“The science is clear on the harmful nature of these chemicals, and AB 2762 will provide Californians with the same consumer protections already provided in the European Union.” — Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi of Torrance on his bill banning certain chemicals in cosmetics, which Newsom signed yesterday
Steve Davies, Bill Tomson and Ben Nuelle contributed to this report.
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