November 12, 2020
PPIC report lays out water priorities for Newsom
Major events in California water and beyond have shifted the landscape and the priorities for local, state and federal action, according to a new report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
Racial unrest has exposed water equity issues. A megadrought may be on the horizon. Conflicts have escalated over Delta flows, with nearly 20 lawsuits filed. Gov. Gavin Newsom finalized his Water Resilience Portfolio. And the recession is presenting hard choices for local and state funding priorities.
Among the key elements in the report, the researchers urge collaboration to reduce uncertainties in agricultural water supplies. They call for broad-based partnerships and industry support for farmworker communities as well.
PPIC will host three panel discussions covering the report and priorities, starting today at 11 a.m. Speakers include agency directors, water managers and Calif. Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman.
Environmental ‘friends’ salute Becerra for taking on agriculture
The advocacy group Friends of the River is today presenting Attorney General Xavier Becerra with a recognition award.
According to the group, Becerra is “a true champion for California and our wild heritage” and “brilliantly” prosecuted a case against the Westlands Water District over raising Shasta Dam. Friends of the River filed its own lawsuit the same day as Becerra. Westlands argued that adding more reservoir capacity would support the state’s climate and drought resilience.
Becerra thanked the group for the award.
Keep in mind: President-elect Joe Biden may be considering Becerra to head the Justice Department or Homeland Security. Or Newsom could appoint him to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' Senate seat in January. Before running as attorney general, Becerra had spent about 25 years in Congress representing downtown Los Angeles.
Prop. 15 fails
Enough ballots have been tallied this week to officially confirm the defeat of the Proposition 15 proposal to raise commercial property taxes.
“Farmers can breathe a little easier today,” said California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson. “The defeat of Prop. 15 can be seen as a rejection of this specific, harmful measure, but also as a broader call to our elected officials to stop enacting costly policies that hurt farmers, consumers and businesses.”
Fudge endorses Scott for House Ag chair
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, is backing Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., to be the next chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, according to Cleveland.com. Fudge’s office also said she would be “honored to serve” if offered a position as secretary of agriculture.
Fudge had been seen as a leading candidate for either position.
Scott has the most seniority among Committee Democrats after Rep. Collin Peterson D-Minn., who lost his election. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., third in seniority, is also seeking to chair the committee.
Bonnie (L) with then-Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack
Carbon bank is the brainchild of Biden transition lead
With Joe Biden preparing to take office, the idea of using USDA to pay farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is getting new attention.
Robert Bonnie, who leads the Biden transition advisory team for USDA, has proposed using the Commodity Credit Corp. to set up a carbon bank that would buy and sell carbon offsets from farmers. That’s the same CCC the Trump administration has been using to make trade assistance and coronavirus relief payments to farmers.
The carbon bank proposal is included in a climate policy memo produced by a group of former officials, including Bonnie, who served as undersecretary of natural resources at USDA during the Obama administration. The memo says USDA has “enormous and underappreciated discretionary financial resources and agency expertise” to address climate issues.
Take note: A new Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance is set for rollout next week, and one of its suggestions will be to incentivize climate-smart practices through a USDA carbon bank, tax credits or conservation programs, a source tells Agri-Pulse.
Bonnie has called for buying ag carbon credits through a reverse auction that would allow farmers, ranchers and forest owners to bid the price at which they are willing to sell offsets. The credits would then be sold into the private market.
In a study the Bipartisan Policy Center released this summer, Bonnie said Congress could authorize USDA to “buy, insure, and/or provide price guarantees for carbon credits.”
Biden plan called for paying farmers
The carbon bank concept is somewhat similar to Biden’s campaign proposal to expand the Conservation Stewardship Program with the help of private funding to pay farmers for offsets.
A USDA carbon bank could establish strong price signals that encourage “robust offset markets” while making use of existing protocols from the private credit market, says Laura Wood Peterson, senior director of government affairs for Indigo Ag, a Boston-based company that is marketing ag carbon credits.
But, but, but: Environmentalists have long been wary of using ag carbon credits to address climate change. “Carbon stored in farm soils during one growing season can be released to the atmosphere again the next, if practices aren’t maintained,” writes a policy expert for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
By the way: A leading farm conservation group, American Farmland Trust, has proposed five policy recommendations for the Biden administration, including a national cover crop initiative that would provide “a five-year surge of incentives and technical assistance.”
Analysis: Trump’s WOTUS in danger
The Biden administration is likely to repeal the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule as it is part of the president-elect’s regulatory agenda, environmental lawyers at HoganLovells say in a new analysis. The NWPR replaced the Obama-era “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule that had expanded the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
The Biden administration could modify the approach taken by the Obama administration or seek a bipartisan solution in Congress, the analysis says.
The lawyers say they expect the new administration “to strengthen environmental protections by adopting new standards, revising existing standards, and increasing enforcement.”
Keep in mind: Biden can’t use Congress to nullify Trump’s regulatory actions unless Democrats win control of the Senate in the upcoming Georgia runoffs.
He said it:
“If he runs in 2024 he'll certainly be the front-runner and will probably be the nominee.” — Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talking to congressional reporters this week about President Donald Trump’s future.
Ben Nuelle, Spencer Chase and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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