August is here, which means it’s usually fairly quiet in the nation’s capital. But this is going to be a crucial week for President Biden’s agenda. And it’s also shaping up to be significant for farm bill programs.
The Senate will debate the reconciliation bill that resulted from last week’s stunning agreement between Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. The package includes more than $20 billion for farm bill conservation programs and conservation technical assistance and another $20 billion for USDA energy and forestry programs.
The top Republican on the Senate Ag Committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, says the bill is essentially reopening the farm bill, which he thinks is a bad idea. Supporters of the legislation say the funding is critical to helping agriculture address climate change.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s confident the House can pass the bill, once it gets through the Senate.
Take note: The Joint Committee on Taxation has evaluated the bill’s climate-related tax provisions and estimates the new clean fuels tax credit for low-carbon biofuels will cost less per year than the existing biodiesel tax credit that would end when the new credit takes effect in 2025.
The clean fuels credit, which would be sunset after 2027, would cost less than $3 billion over the three years it would be in effect. By comparison, the biodiesel tax credit is estimated to cost $2.7 billion in fiscal 2023 alone.
An industry expert notes that the clean fuels credit, which is based on a fuel’s carbon score, will start at 20 cents a gallon. The biodiesel credit is a flat $1 a gallon.
House passes wildfire-drought bill
Just before starting their August recess, Democrats pushed a bill through the House that would authorize measures to address wildfires and drought. Republicans slammed the measure as a political messaging bill.
The legislation, which is actually a package of bills, includes new pay and hiring authority for wildland firefighters and also authorizes funding for removal of hazardous fuels and prescribed fires. There also is authority for a variety of water-related projects.
Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., said the measure would “protect the West by addressing water shortages and protecting our forests and addressing the needs of our firefighters.”
But Rep. Glenn Thompson, the top Republican on the House Ag Committee, complained that House leaders blocked most amendments. He said the bill lacked regulatory reforms to carry out needed wildfire mitigation.
USDA skipped step in updating Thrifty Food Plan: GAO
Congressional watchdog the Government Accountability Office has issued a report that could complicate the Senate’s consideration of Stacy Dean’s nomination to become the department’s undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.
GAO concluded in a six-page report that USDA should have filed a formal report with Congress before adjusting the Thrifty Food Plan, which resulted in a $145-per-month increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
USDA argued the update was exempt from Congressional Review Act reporting but GAO found differently. Dean oversaw the TFP action as deputy undersecretary for the USDA mission area.
EPA expands list of candidates for biofuel review
The Environmental Protection Agency is adding two new names to the list of candidates for an important review of how the nation’s biofuels policies affect the environment.
In a Federal Register notice today seeking comments in 15 days, the agency says the candidates were needed “in order to strengthen underrepresented areas of expertise, specifically economics, water quality, and ecology disciplines.”
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One is Douglas Landis, a Michigan State entomologist whose lab at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center “is working to understand how future production of bioenergy crops will affect biodiversity and ecosystem services.”
The other is Harry De Gorter, a co-author of the 2015 book, “The Economics of Biofuel Policies,” which says biofuel policies “ushered in the new era of high and volatile grain and oilseed policies.”
Keep in mind: The Renewable Fuels Association is already opposed to six of the now-20 candidates for the nine slots, contending that they demonstrate “an obvious ideological bias against commercial agriculture and renewable fuels like ethanol.”
Senators to USTR: Press India on pecan tariffs
Eight senators led by Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock are pushing U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to confront India – a companion in the proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework – over its 100% tariff on pecans.
“Demand for tree nuts continues to grow in India, and high tariffs mean that the pecan industry is not able to participate in this booming market,” the senators say in a letter to Tai. “Expanding export market opportunities is key to the future of the pecan industry, and we are committed to working with you in support of this goal.”
India is known for its trade barriers. The situation worsened in 2019 after the U.S. revoked the country’s trade privileges under the Generalized System of Preferences program. India consequently raised its tariffs.
Farm groups, EWG spar over report on manure and Lake Erie
Pork producers in Ohio and Indiana are pushing back against an Environmental Working Group report that claims 90% of the animal feeding operations in the Western Lake Erie basin are unpermitted. The analysis said those “under the radar” operations account for most of the phosphorus manure in the basin.
The Ohio Pork Council, Ohio Farm Bureau and Indiana Pork disputed the characterization of smaller AFOs as “unregulated,” with OPC Executive Vice President Cheryl Day saying “all livestock farms, regardless of size, must comply with the Ohio Agricultural Pollution Abatement Program (APAP).”
EWG, however, maintained that “If Ohio’s smaller animal operations were actually regulated as the Ohio Farm Bureau and Ohio Pork Council claim, someone in an Ohio regulatory agency would be able to provide the public with at least some of this information – never mind all of it. But, shockingly, they can’t. We know, because we’ve asked, during many meetings with agency staff across the last two years.”
He said it. “You can’t turn back time and become Old McDonald’s farm and still feed 10 billion people with one percent of the workforce who’s interested in being full-time farmers. It just won’t work.” - Adam Putnam, CEO of Ducks Unlimited, speaking on the Agri-Pulse Open Mic podcast.
Steve Davies, Noah Wicks and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.