Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow says she’s “very optimistic” that substantial new funding for farm bill conservation programs will be included in the $3.5 trillion spending agreement that Democrats have announced. Stabenow has been seeking $50 billion in new conservation funding to promote climate-friendly farming practices.

Relatively few details are available about what’s in the agreement, including the tax increases needed to pay for it.

Take note: One of the biggest issues for agriculture is whether Democrats will try to include President Biden’s proposal to eliminate stepped-up basis and tax capital gains at death.

Stabenow, who’s a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said the tax provisions will be worked out later but she insisted that farms would be shielded from tax increases. “We certainly aren't going to affect family farms or family-owned businesses,” the Michigan Democrat said.

Under Biden’s tax plan, the capital gains tax on farms and small businesses would be deferred as long as they remain in operation.

Keep in mind: Assuming no Republicans back this giant package, Democrats will have to stay united to pass it through the budget reconciliation process, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wasn’t on board as of Wednesday afternoon.

He said he’s concerned about the impact on inflation and wants to maintain the viability of the fossil fuel industry, saying it will be needed to fund clean energy innovation.

OSHA gears up to keep eye on businesses

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh says he’s staffing up the Occupational Safety and Health Administration so the agency can better investigate and prevent unsafe working conditions. The American Relief Plan, enacted in March, provided OSHA with $100 million in special funding.

Sen. Joe Manchin

Sen. Joe Manchin

Walsh told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday that OSHA staffing had declined sharply under the Trump administration and that the agency has been unable to follow up on many complaints.

His goal is to double the number of OSHA inspectors by the end of the president’s four-year term. He also said he wants to see OSHA inspectors working proactively with businesses to correct unsafe practices “rather than having to respond to a tragedy.”

“Businesses should not look at OSHA as a burden. Businesses should look at OSHA as a partner,” he told the senators.

EPA official: Agencies will seek ‘balance’ in new WOTUS rule

EPA’s new assistant administrator for water, Radhika Fox, told lawmakers Wednesday that the EPA and Amy Corps of Engineers are “really committed to trying to find a balance” between the Obama and Trump administration rules defining “waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act.

As part of its effort to come up with a new definition, the Biden administration plans to hold virtual listening sessions later this summer and organize meetings with various stakeholder groups, including the ag industry, she told a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee.

Regional roundtables in each of EPA’s 10 regions also will be held in fall or winter, she said.

The administration wants to devise a definition that can stand the test of time and avoid the litigation that has dogged previous versions, Fox said.

The Biden administration is awaiting a court decision in Massachusetts on its request to remand the Trump rule to EPA and the Corps without vacating it.

Cannabis bill would pave way for CBD

A landmark new bill that would legalize marijuana would also create a legal pathway for the use of cannabidiol, or CBD, in dietary supplements. That would open up a commercial opportunity for hemp producers.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., in announcing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act on Wednesday.

The bill, which is still in the form of a discussion draft, would require FDA to determine safe levels of CBD in dietary supplements, above which the supplements would be considered adulterated.

Feedback: The sponsors will be accepting input on the bill until Sept. 1.

Herrick Fox, a hemp grower in Vermont who also is government affairs co-chair of the National Industrial Hemp Council, said his industry still needs Congress to increase the amount of THC allowed in hemp from 0.3% to 1%.

Committee advances Western water funding

Western farm groups are welcoming progress on a Senate bill that would provide $8.3 billion in new funding for Westernhemp water projects.

The funding is included in an energy infrastructure measure that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved 13-7 on Wednesday.

The committee’s top Republican, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, faulted the bill for not reauthorizing some expiring water programs, but he withdrew an amendment after committee Chairman Joe Manchin agreed to work with him on a separate measure.

Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance, called the committee’s bill a “balanced infrastructure package that includes resources for critical Western water supply needs.” The alliance represents more than 220 organizations from 15 states.

The bill includes $3.2 billion for aging infrastructure and $1.15 billion for water storage and conveyance.

He said it. “All of these companies have teams of lawyers. You need at least one to work with you.” - Texas A&M University economist Joe Outlaw, speaking on an Iowa Farm Bureau webinar about the importance of farmers getting legal advice before signing a carbon credit contract.

Correction: Wednesday's Daybreak had incorrect party affiliations for Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.

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