December 2, 2020
Cal/OSHA rule clears review, now effective
Less than two weeks after approval from the Cal/OSHA board, an emergency regulation designed to protect workers during COVID-19 outbreaks has gone into effect.
The rule cleared a legal review by the state this week. Business and agriculture groups argued the board was overstepping its jurisdiction by requiring employee wages and benefits to continue when a worker is on leave due to exposure. The Western Agricultural Processors Association claimed the rushed procedure to pass the regulation lacked due process.
Employers are now responsible for developing a prevention plan, correcting hazards in the workplace, investigating cases and immediately notifying employees who may have been exposed.
With a dry fall, water allocation is minimal
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) on Tuesday set the initial allocation at just 10% for the State Water Project for the 2021 water year.
Northern California broke a record with no rainfall in October and just 53% of average in November. Water storage has declined significantly from where it was this time last year. Lake Shasta went from 119% of average to 75% now, while Lake Oroville dropped from 90% to 61%.
“While we still have several months ahead of us, dry conditions persist,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “Californians can help by always using water carefully, inside and outside their homes and businesses.”
DWR makes the final adjustments to the allocation typically in May.
State grants modest tax relief to small businesses
Following through on Gov. Newsom’s pledge Monday, the tax department released more details on Tuesday about relief for small businesses.
This includes pushing back filing deadlines, offering interest-free payment options and providing tax credits of up to $100,000 each. The administration is also making $500 million available for grants of up to $25,000.
“Our hope is that these relief efforts will enable businesses to weather this difficult storm,” said Department Director Nick Maduros.
The aid comes as counties have ordered more businesses closed and the administration considers a second stay-at-home order.
Scott picked as next House Ag leader
Georgia Rep. David Scott is one step away from becoming the first Black chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Tuesday night selected Scott over California Rep. Jim Costa by a vote of 32-19.
Scott would succeed Collin Peterson, who lost his re-election race. The Georgia Democrat still must be approved by the full Democratic caucus.
In announcing his candidacy for the post, Scott said every action of the committee “must take a step forward toward building a more equitable, dynamic, and resilient agriculture industry that lays forth a new path for future generations.”
Read our full report at Agri-Pulse.com.
Farm program critic step closer to key House post
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has repeatedly and vocally challenged USDA over farm programs, food safety regulation and other issues, has taken a big step toward taking the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee.
The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Tuesday picked DeLauro, D-Conn., over two challengers. The full Democratic conference still has to approve DeLauro, who has long been close to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Earlier this year, DeLauro slammed USDA’s inspector general for not moving more quickly to investigate the Market Facilitation Program. “They can employ the same waste, fraud and abuse which is ongoing right now in this program, and you are not doing anything about it,” she said.
Keep in mind: Although appropriators have often imposed policy changes on departments through bill riders, DeLauro would have a lot of other issues on her plate as well as a closely divided House to deal with. The Senate Appropriations Committee also would fight any policy moves opposed by farm groups.
“If you have a Republican Senate, it would be easy to see (Senate Ag Appropriations Chairman John) Hoeven pushing back on any potential policy riders included by Chairwoman DeLauro or the House that would impact crop insurance or curtail farm payments,” said T.A. Hawks, a lobbyist with Monument Advocacy and former GOP staffer.
For a look at the candidates to become Joe Biden’s agriculture secretary, be sure and read our weekly Agri-Pulse newsletter. We also look at the challenges facing Biden if he wants to use crop insurance to promote climate-friendly farming practices.
Key senator wary of USDA carbon payments
The senator who will be the chairman or top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee isn’t sold yet on the idea of using USDA to buy ag carbon offsets from farmers. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., tells Agri-Pulse he’s not closed to the idea of using the Commodity Credit Corp. account for that purpose, but he has concerns about how the carbon credits would work as well as how much money would be needed.
“That’s something we really need to discuss,” Boozman said. “The CCC hasn’t been used for things like that in the past.” He also said he wants to make sure the payments benefit farmers and not just companies marketing the credits.
The idea of using the CCC to set up a carbon bank is being pushed by the leader of Joe Biden’s USDA transition team, Robert Bonnie. It’s not clear whether a Biden administration would try to get congressional approval for the idea.
The top Democrat on the Ag Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, said she thinks “there’s a lot of work to do to flesh out” the concept, but she generally supports ag carbon trading. She’s a co-sponsor of the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would put USDA in charge of certifying third-party verifiers of carbon credits.
“Creating a new commodity, carbon, … would be very beneficial as a new revenue stream as well as helping with the climate crisis,” she told Agri-Pulse.
Hill sees flurry of stimulus proposals
Republicans, Democrats, and the Trump administration are holding out hope of reaching a deal on additional coronavirus relief while also agreeing to a government-wide spending bill for fiscal 2021.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters the omnibus bill and COVID aid would likely be part of a single package.
McConnell began circulating a new coronavirus relief plan on Tuesday after receiving a proposal from Pelosi Monday night. Pelosi said Tuesday more COVID relief should be passed in the lame-duck session.
By the way: A bipartisan group of senators is proposing a $908 billion coronavirus relief package. Democrats have been pushing for more than $2 trillion in spending.
He said it:
“I have no doubt we will leave behind richer soils, greener pastures and bluer skies for the next generation.” — Brian Shobe, associate policy director for the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), in presenting a progress report on CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program.
Shobe urged the Legislature and administration to find “reliable and consistent” funding mechanisms to maintain the program.
Ben Nuelle and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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