December 9, 2020
New bill proposes N95 stockpile for farmworkers
Assembly Ag Chair Robert Rivas of Hollister has co-authored a bill that would charge Cal/OSHA with establishing a stockpile of N95 respirators to deploy to farmworkers when wildfire smoke is present.
“Without adequate protections, our farmworkers risk lifelong debilitating illnesses,” Rivas said in a statement.
Strike teams in regional Cal/OSHA offices would distribute the masks to employers.
Climate resilience bond returns
Three state senators have revived a bond measure that would deliver $5.5 billion to various projects aimed at wildfire prevention, safe drinking water, drought preparation and flood protection.
If approved by voters in 2022, the measure would allocate $1.5 billion for “safe drinking water and protecting water supply and water quality from climate risks.”
Another $190 million would go toward protecting agricultural lands from climate risks. This includes practices to improve soil health and sequester carbon, recharge groundwater and provide fish and wildlife habitat. Funding would also go to projects improving water efficiency and drought tolerance. The bill carves out $190 million for farmland conservation easements as well.
Read more about how the state is relying on bonds and local agencies for water projects in the Agri-Pulse West Newsletter later this morning.
Lawmakers pitch environmental bills in opening days
Legislators introduced a number of other measures on Tuesday, several related to agriculture.
One bill offers incentives for clean trucks and tractors, another would add goals for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through natural and working lands. Another measure aims to develop climate adaptation plans that would consider the effects on agriculture, among many other areas.
At least four bills are related to banning or limiting natural gas connections in new buildings.
Climate change tops Scott’s House Ag agenda
The next chairman of the House Agriculture Committee tells Agri-Pulse that climate policy will be a top priority for the panel in the next Congress.
Georgia Democrat David Scott said he wants to bring in scientists and engineers to testify before the committee on ways to help farmers “navigate the future and solutions to climate change.”
Keep in mind: On that score, Scott’s priorities will be in line with the incoming Biden administration, for which climate policy is certain to be a major focus during 2021. Scott acknowledged the politics of the issue, but said he wants to have a solutions-oriented conversation.
Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Glenn Thompson, who will take over as the committee’s ranking member, said climate is a priority for him, too, but he wants to make sure that it doesn’t result in overregulation.
For more from our interviews with Scott and Thompson, be sure and read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter.
We’ll also look at a top ag economist’s bullish forecast for the U.S. farm economy: AgResource President Dan Basse expects farm income to be well above average next year because of strong commodity markets.
Boozman has questions for Vilsack as Ag pick
President-elect Joe Biden has picked Tom Vilsack as his choice for Agriculture secretary, according to multiple reports.
Vilsack served as agriculture secretary through Barack Obama’s administration and would be a logical choice to carry out Biden’s climate policy when it comes to agriculture. Vilsack advised Biden’s campaign on how to frame the climate debate for farmers and rural voters, including paying farmers for climate-friendly practices
Sen. John Boozman, who will become chairman or ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee in January, isn’t ready to endorse Vilsack yet. “We want to know kind of where he’s at with things like climate, how that’s going to affect the ag community, if he’s going to be supportive of mainstream agriculture,” Boozman told Agri-Pulse.
By the way: Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he would support Vilsack’s nomination and would be willing to introduce him at his confirmation hearing.
“I like what Vilsack did as secretary of agriculture for eight years, and if he was in for another four years it would be ok with me,” Grassley told reporters. Vilsack is a former Iowa governor.
Meanwhile: Some progressive groups had been trying to head off Vilsack’s nomination.
Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones said Vilsack has “made a career of catering to the whims of corporate agriculture giants – some of whom he has gone to work for – while failing to fight for struggling family farmers at every turn.”
Food & Water Watch endorsed Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, but she reportedly will be picked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She told reporters Tuesday evening she hadn’t been offered the job yet but would be honored to serve.
Water resources bill nears final action
A water resources bill that should make it easier to fund inland waterway projects is one step away from the president’s desk. The House on Tuesday passed the compromise reauthorization bill by voice vote, sending it to the Senate for final action.
Under the bill, 65% of the funding for inland waterway projects would come from general funds. The Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which is funded with barge tax revenue, would be responsible for the other 35%. Project costs are now split 50-50 between the two sources.
The new Water Resources Development Act also would authorize additional spending on port projects through the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
Report: Rural residents get vaccinated less
Vaccinating rural residents for COVID-19 could be especially challenging, given the relatively low vaccination rates for the flu among Medicare patients in rural areas, according to an analysis by USA Today.
“Rural counties from west Texas to northern Nebraska to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan had some of the country’s lowest vaccination rates,” the newspaper reported, citing 2017 data. The pattern “holds true across America. The more rural the county, the lower flu vaccination rates tended to be.”
Meanwhile: The League of United Latin American Citizens “is calling for prioritization of distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to food and agricultural workers” alongside doctors, nurses and first responders.
Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health care workers and people living in long-term care facilities should be the top priority.
He said it:
“You know, I’m going to let Joe Biden handle that. I’ve got my hands full over here trying to deal with all that I’ve got to deal with.” — Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., when asked about Tom Vilsack returning as agriculture secretary.
Spencer Chase, Ben Nuelle, Steve Davies and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
Agri-Pulse Daybreak West is brought to you by FMC.