There are growing concerns in some quarters of agriculture about the use of environmental justice concerns in regulating farmers. But a new document out of EPA says the agency has ample authority to take those concerns into account when evaluating the impacts of air, water and land pollution.
Pesticide permitting and registration, as well as Clean Water Act permitting, are two areas where regulators could take cumulative impacts on “communities with environmental justice concerns” into account, according to the addendum out of EPA’s Office of General Counsel. The document builds on EPA’s release of a “Legal Tools” document in May, which said the agency could use its authority to require permits from more animal feeding operations near EJ communities.
Environmental groups petitioned EPA in October to require large concentrated animal feeding operations using wet manure management system to apply for discharge permits.
EPA described the document in a news release as the “first-ever collection of examples of the agency’s legal authorities to identify and address cumulative impacts through a range of actions, including permitting, regulations, and grants, in order to consider the lived experience of communities overburdened by pollution and advance environmental justice.”
By the way: At its annual meeting this week, the American Farm Bureau Federation adopted a position that agriculture should be exempt from environmental justice policies.
“This is going down the wrong path for agriculture by having these types of policies that affect how we farm and the things that we do,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Chris Hoffman, a hog farmer.

House aggies win coveted Ways and Means seats
Second-term GOP Reps. Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota and Randy Feenstra of Iowa have been awarded seats on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax and trade policy. Fischbach, who represents most of western Minnesota, unseated longtime House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson in 2020.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues to fight for American agriculture and American families on this important committee,” said Fischbach, who along with Feenstra served on House Ag in the last Congress.

Feenstra represents much of western Iowa.
By the way:  The USA Rice Federation says it has an ally for its farmers in new Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo. Smith “will be in a position to lead this committee to advocate for U.S. rice on a global scale on the many trade issues we face,” said Zach Worrell, a Missouri rice farmer and member of the USA Rice International Trade Policy Committee.  
USA Rice Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs Peter Bachmann says the group is hoping Smith will push the Biden administration to take action on India’s impact on global rice markets.
USDA will get to 2022 disaster aid later 
USDA needs to finish allocating disaster assistance for 2020 and 2021 before it starts offering payments for 2022 losses. That’s the word form Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of the Farm Service Agency.
But, he told Agri-Pulse, “we will do our level best to get it out the door as efficiently and equitably as possible.”
The fiscal 2023 omnibus funding package included $3.7 billion to cover 2022 losses. He indicated that the department was likely to use the same Emergency Relief Program framework that USDA created for the 2020 and 2021 payments. “When we were contemplating ERP, we were thinking of a process that we could continue to put assistance through,” he said.
Corn growers urge administration to keep pressure on Mexico
The National Corn Growers Association is cheering Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s statement to reporters Monday that there can be no compromise on Mexico’s threat to ban genetically modified corn.
“We appreciate Secretary Vilsack for taking a firm stand on this issue,” NCGA President Tom Haag said Wednesday. “We would encourage the Biden administration to keep this issue front and center and push for a quick resolution, as farmers have already made their purchasing decisions for the 2023 crop year.”
Vilsack has threatened to file a dispute against Mexico’s plan to ban GM corn imports. Haag said that’s exactly what the NCGA is hoping for.
Supply chain issues easing for grocery shoppers
Household food spending has increased more than 15% over the past year, but much of the rise was in the first half of 2022, according to the latest Consumer Food Insights report from Purdue University.

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Consumers reported spending an average of $121 per week on groceries in December and $65 per week on restaurants and other carryout meals. Food spending has remained relatively constant since May, the report notes.
Take note: Consumers have had fewer issues finding items in stock at the grocery store, with 14% of consumers dealing with out-of-stock items in December, compared to 25% in January.
Chicken was the most reported item that people were unable to find at the grocery store in 2022. “Given that we are in the middle of the deadliest bird flu outbreak, this is unsurprising,” said report co-author Sam Polzin.
He said it. “I see the cap as a goal for us to aspire to.” – Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux, when asked about prospects of getting closer this year to the acreage limit for the Conservation Reserve Program.
Just under 23 million acres are currently enrolled in the program, 4 million acres below this year’s limit. Contracts on 2 million acres are due to come out of the program this year. Although the Biden administration has envisioned CRP as a means to help meet its greenhouse gas reduction target, strong commodity markets are making it less attractive to landowners.
Ducheneaux stressed that the program is supposed to target marginal or environmentally sensitive cropland. “We're going to do our level best to get the right acres with the right aspect of the CRP program,” he said.

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