EPA Administrator Michael Regan says the agency is putting a priority on re-evaluating pesticides for their environmental impact under the Endangered Species Act.

Regan told senators Wednesday that the White House had requested 10 full-time staff and $4.3 million in fiscal 2023 to carry out the ESA reviews. “We’ve invested heavily in strengthening our work in this area,” Regan told the Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.

He conceded the agency was behind schedule in finishing a review of the impact of pesticides on pollinators. But he said, “We are continuing to forge ahead on this very important issue. It’s a priority, and it’s reflected in our budget.”

While we’re at it. Regan told senators EPA would take high fuel prices into consideration when it decides whether to grant new small refinery exemptions from the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Regan said EPA was trying to “follow the law” while “being sensitive to the prices that we’re facing now.” He said the war in Ukraine was putting pressure on refiners.

H-2A demand continues to soar

Applications for H-2A workers were up 17.5% during the first half of fiscal 2022, according to an analysis by the National Council of Agricultural Employers. The number of H-2A workers certified by the Labor Department increased 16.5% over FY21 to 193,273.

More than 258,000 workers received H-2A visas in FY21, which was a 21% increase over fiscal 2020.

“Similar to other sectors of the U.S. economy, agricultural employers face an exceptional shortage of workers as America recovers from the pandemic,” noted Michael Marsh, President and CEO of NCAE.

He said the “dwindling number of domestic applicants for these temporary positions has led to explosive growth in the number of temporary foreign workers needed to plant, nurture, and harvest food for our nation.”

Dems continue to target meatpackers for inflation

House Democrats, who are struggling to overcome voters’ inflation concerns heading into the mid-term elections, are moving a bill to the floor that would create a special investigator’s office at USDA to probe meat industry practices. The House Ag Committee approved the measure largely along party lines Wednesday, 27-21.     

Democrats are focusing on industries such as meatpacking and oil refining as they seek to make the case that industry concentration is behind the inflation consumers are seeing.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., used a hearing Wednesday with Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan to accuse meatpackers of “price gouging.” Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said consumers “are paying more than they need to” due to meat industry concentration.

CFTC logoCFTC seeking advice on carbon market regulation

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is looking for input as it defines its role in the carbon offsets market. Speaking at the Politico Sustainability Summit on Wednesday, CFTC Chairman Rostin Behnam said the commission will be releasing a set of questions on which the agency wants feedback.

The commission also has a roundtable scheduled for June 2.

Behnam says there’s recognition that farmers, ranchers and other landowners could benefit from carbon offset markets but that they need to be properly managed. “We want to be very careful about what we create,” he said. And if that turns out to be a new cash market with futures contracts dependent upon it, a regulator such as the CFTC will be needed, he said.

Lawmakers try to expand WIC coverage for formula

Lawmakers are moving ahead with a plan to make it easier for low-income families to get baby formula.

The Access to Baby Formula Act, which the House passed Wednesday night, would enable USDA to waive certain contractual requirements for families purchasing formula using WIC benefits. Abbott Nutrition, the company behind the factory shutdown causing the supply crisis, supplies about 89% of the formula bought through WIC.

Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark., introduced a companion measure in the Senate, although she expects the Senate to ultimately act on the House bill. Boozman told reporters it is a “very bipartisan” effort

Take note: FDA Commissioner Robert Califf will testify before the House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee Thursday, where he is expected to face questions on the formula crisis.

Study backs USDA foreign marketing programs

The U.S. Grains Council has released the updated version of a five-year-old study that makes the case that USDA export promotion programs are well worth their cost to taxpayers.

The USGC-funded study says the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development program helped increase ag exports by an average of $9.6 billion every year from 1977 to 2019. That represents an annual 13.7% boost to ag export revenues and translates into a return of $24.50 for every dollar invested in the programs, the study says.

USGC President and CEO Ryan LeGrand says the report demonstrates “the long-term impact of the programs that help our members expand markets and our customers build their operations and further serve their local consumers.”

He said it. “If it’s affordable and in the marketplace, people will change overnight.” - Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., telling EPA Administrator Michael Regan that Americans will switch to electric vehicles wholesale if battery range can be improved significantly.

Garrett Downs, Amy Mayer and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.

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