For all of the historic turmoil at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden is in a stronger position than ever as he prepares to take office. The Democratic sweep of the two Georgia runoffs gives Democrats control of an evenly divided Senate.

At the same time, the GOP leaders are faced with reuniting a party in wake of President Donald Trump’s unrelenting election challenge and the takeover of the Capitol by pro-Trump protesters.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who will retake the gavel of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she will work to set up an agricultural carbon market. She described it as a “top priority” for the committee. Stabenow chaired the committee from 2011 to 2015.

She may have to overcome some GOP opposition if she wants to do it on a bipartisan basis. Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, who will be the committee’s top Republican, has expressed some concerns that ag carbon trading will primarily benefit middlemen.

“We’re going to do all we can to work with them on every (policy) area that there is,” Boozman told Agri-Pulse. “On the other hand, whatever we are going to do is going to be governed by common sense and good science.”

Read our story here for more on the impact of Democrats’ winning control of the Senate.

Protester in the Senate chamber (pool photo)

Ag-state GOP senators weigh in on Capitol takeover

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa: “Today’s violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was an attack on American democracy itself. This was not a demonstration of any of our protected, inalienable rights. These were un-American acts worthy only of condemnation.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.: The Capitol "was ransacked while the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard — tweeting against his Vice President for fulfilling the duties of his oath to the Constitution

Biden’s choice for AG called ‘consensus builder’

Almost lost in the Capitol Hill turmoil was news that appeals court judge Merrick Garland will be Joe Biden’s pick as attorney general. Democratic control of the Senate assures that Biden can replace Garland on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. That powerful court is considered second only to the Supreme Court because of its jurisdiction over federal regulatory matters.

How Garland addresses specific issues such as enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws remains to be seen, however. One area he will have to address is DOJ’s position in litigation over the “waters of the U.S.” rule, where the department is currently defending the Trump administration’s new definition.

“It's a superb choice for the same reasons he would have made a great Supreme Court Justice,” says Vermont Law School professor Patrick Parenteau. “He's wicked smart, impartial and objective, open to persuasion on the facts and law, follows precedent, respects science, defers to agencies when they deserve it, and not when they don't, and has a modest temperament and demeanor on the bench. He's a consensus builder.”

On the other side, a lawyer for a Washington, D.C.-based trade group who asked not to be identified said as a judge, “Garland sided with agencies in the overwhelming majority of cases. He is viewed as a pro-government lawyer who will tend to defer to federal agencies, which is consistent with many lawyers that spend time at DOJ before joining the bench.”

By the way: One of Garland’s best-known environmental opinions came in 2003 when the D.C. Circuit upheld a Commerce Clause challenge to the Endangered Species Act over regulation of the arroyo southwestern toad, which is found only in California. Most of the environmental opinions he authored on the appeals court involved the Clean Air Act.

OMB pick: Rural broadband priority for Biden

Neera Tanden, Biden’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, said securing broadband for unserved areas and infrastructure development will be among the top priorities of the administration.

“I’m most optimistic we will retire Infrastructure Week because we will actually pass an infrastructure bill,” Tanden said on a webinar for small-business owners. “It’s one of the issues that really warms the heart of the President-elect.”

“Every corner of the country needs broadband,” Tanden added. “I think we can hopefully create a large scale coalition that unites rural and urban communities to really get behind the level of investment we need.”

By the way: Boozman tells Agri-Pulse there is likely to be a bipartisan push for rural broadband expansion with the Senate under Democratic control. “In order to do all kinds of things that are so good for our farmers and ranchers regarding their input costs or protecting the environment, broadband is critical,” he told Agri-Pulse.

High prices welcome change for soy farmers

Soybean futures prices closed strong again Wednesday and the recent upswing is a much-needed trend for U.S. farmers, says Joe Stone, Cargill’s head of corporate trading and executive vice president for the agricultural supply chain.

The January contract for soybeans closed Wednesday at just over $13.65 per bushel.

Stone, speaking on a webinar hosted by the U.S. Soybean Export Council, said, “We have to be optimistic. We’re fortunate that we are getting a chance today to see some prices that help our farmers be profitable, help them pay off their debt, help them recapitalize, because it has been a very difficult and a very choppy four to five years.”

Plant-based meat alternatives gain popularity in China

China is still the world’s largest meat-consuming country, but plant-based alternatives are gaining popularity despite high prices for imitation beef, pork and poultry, according to a new report from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

The list of companies now producing plant-based meat alternative foods or ingredients for sale in China includes Cargill, which makes and markets plant-based equivalent of chicken nuggets, beef patties, minced scallop meat and chicken strips out of soy and wheat protein in China.

Beyond Meat uses peas, mung beans, fava beans and brown rice to produce faux meatballs, sausage and beef patties, which it exports to China for retail at Starbucks. Beyond Meat announced last year that it was planning to open up a production facility in China. 

FAS notes that the Chinese Institute of Food Science and Technology last year unveiled a draft of a set of standards for producing plant-based meat alternatives that includes definitions and “proposes classification, technical, and marketing requirements for these products.”

He said it. "The best thing for agriculture is that there is a drought in Argentina and Brazil.” - Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, when asked about the impact a Democratic-controlled Senate would have on U.S. agriculture.

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