The Senate is finally set to vote today on sending Tom Vilsack back to USDA for a new stint as agriculture secretary, more than a month after Joe Biden became president. 
Among the first issues he’ll have to address when he returns to the office is what to do about the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. USDA put CFAP payments on pause after Biden took office so the department’s new leaders could review what the outgoing Trump administration had done. 
National Farmers Union President Rob Larew says Vilsack also needs to shore up morale among USDA employees. “He’s going to want to generate a lot of excitement, buzz, that USDA can be part of the solution here in a number of ways,” Larew said.
Vilsack also will have to implement provisions of the new stimulus bill making its way through Congress, plus get the ball rolling on ag climate policy. 
Take note: The White House on Monday sent Jewel Bronaugh’s nomination as deputy ag secretary to the Senate. The Virginia ag commissioner has been widely praised. 
Ag climate coalition expands
The industry coalition formed last fall to shape agricultural climate policy, the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, has expanded significantly with the addition of 14 organizations to FACA’s steering committee. 
The new groups include the American Seed Trade Association, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau and the Farm Credit Council as well groups representing several commodities, including beef, corn, cotton, milk, sugar and rice. 
Keep in mind: Expanding the steering committee gives FACA more reach and lobbying muscle, but it could also make it easier to agree on policy down the road. 
Andrew Walmsley, who represents the American Farm Bureau Federation, a founding member of FACA, says there are several working groups focused on different policy aspects, including one on financial incentives and another on the concept of an ag carbon bank. The groups are charged with putting more details on FACA’s policy recommendations. 
Biden EPA signals its biofuels approach
President Joe Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency will have a different approach to waivers from the nation’s biofuel mandate.
The EPA announced Monday it agrees with a court ruling that said waivers from the Renewable Fuel Standard should be extended, not granted anew. Refiners are currently appealing the case to the Supreme Court and argue the Clean Air Act allows for Small Refinery Exemptions to be granted at any time.
The coalition of ag and biofuel groups that brought the original case celebrated the decision as a “major step forward by the Biden administration to restore the integrity” of the RFS. But the Fueling American Jobs Coalition, which represents refinery workers, said EPA’s decision was “no surprise. At the end of the day, the EPA will have to abide by the Supreme Court’s decision on the case.”
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Biden administration again rejects revival of WTO appeals court

The Biden administration has again blocked the World Trade Organization from resurrecting its appeals court system, which was effectively shut down by the previous administration. Demanding reforms to the appellate system, the Trump administration began blocking nominees to fill appellate judge positions until there were no judges remaining.

Last month, the Biden administration said it was too preoccupied with the transition to commit to a resumption of hiring new appellate judges, but that wasn’t the explanation Tuesday. The U.S. is again expressing apprehensions over “systemic concerns with the appellate body,” according to a Geneva official.

Officials representing Canada and Norway nevertheless expressed optimism. The Canadians stressed that the Biden administration likely just needs a little more time before allowing the judge positions to be filled.

Organic industry reps will hit Congress, USDA during virtual fly-in

About 20 organic producers will take part virtually in an annual fly-in Tuesday and Wednesday to push for the Organic Trade Association’s priorities on Capitol Hill and at USDA, including advancement of organic standards in several areas where the industry has reached agreement.

“In the past 10 years, the industry has advanced 20 consensus recommendations for improvements to the organic standards, yet USDA has not completed rulemaking on a single one of them,” OTA says in background material that mentions the lack of a standard for the origin of livestock, aquaculture, pet food, animal welfare, and others.

OTA will be urging USDA to restore the organic and sustainable agriculture policy adviser role at the department, a position that was eliminated during the Trump administration, and will also push USDA to hire more organic experts for its research programs.

Among the participants: a young African-American organic peanut farmer in Georgia and a sixth-generation California cattleman and the founder of the largest grass-fed beef company in the U.S.

Haaland gets backing from tribes in advance of confirmation hearing

Native American leaders have loudly proclaimed their support Rep. Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and the Biden administration’s Interior secretary nominee, in advance of a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today.

Pushing back against opposition from Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines, who has vowed to block the nomination because of what he calls Haaland’s “radical” views on fossil fuels, groups of tribes including the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, the Global Indigenous Council, and the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association declared their “unequivocal support” for her.

With Haaland as Interior secretary, tribal leaders told Daines and other Republicans in a letter they are confident the Bureau of Land Management will “cease to act as a realtor for multinational extractive industry corporations. Public lands are ancestral Indigenous territories, yet the original stakeholders have been omitted from any decision-making process.”

Haaland is expected to tell the ENR committee “there’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come” but the issue of climate change must be addressed, according to The Hill.

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