EPA Administrator Michael Regan is pushing back on criticism of the Biden administration’s new “waters of the U.S. rule.” In an interview with Agri-Pulse, he says the rule will protect wetlands and other features left vulnerable under the Trump administration’s previous rule, while preserving longstanding exemptions for normal farming practices.
Speaking from Kansas, where he was visiting a farm and announcing a local school district’s receipt of electric buses, Regan said he disagreed “completely” with witnesses at a House hearing this week who said the rule expanded EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers’ authority.
“It may be an expansion of what the Trump administration had in place, but the Trump administration's rule did nothing to preserve some of the precious pocosins and wetlands in my home state of North Carolina.” Pocosins are a type of wetland.
“I will contend that the rule that we have put forward is a very durable rule, very legally sound,” he said.
Take note: Regan didn’t directly answer when asked whether he had consulted with agency lawyers about whether to delay the effective date of the rule until the Supreme Court issues its Sackett decision.
“We completed the rule so that the Supreme Court would be able to reference an updated rule that is more reflective of the pragmatism for how we can protect clean water but also provide the ag industry the flexibilities they need to help us with our food, our fuel and fiber for this country.”
“We'll wait patiently to see how the court rules, and we will govern ourselves accordingly,” Regan said.

USDA close to finalizing first climate-smart contracts
USDA is close to finalizing the first contracts that will be funded under the $3 billion Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities initiative, says Robert Bonnie, USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation. Bonnie was on Capitol Hill Thursday to testify before the Senate Ag Committee.
Bonnie says USDA has had to address issues related to environmental reviews and the frequency of USDA reimbursement for project costs.
During the hearing, Bonnie told Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, he had no plans to use USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. authority to expand the climate-smart commodities initiative or to fund any other new programs.
Some equity proposals may need farm bill action
Deputy Agriculture Secretary Jewel Bronaugh says she expects USDA’s Equity Commission to finalize a set of recommendations to the department in “short order.” The panel approved nearly three dozen recommendations last week addressing the diversity of county committees and other issues.
Some of the proposals “we need to respond to immediately,” Bronaugh tells Agri-Pulse Newsmakers. “Others will require congressional action and perhaps farm bill actions.”
This week’s Newsmakers show will be available today at Agri-Pulse.com.
House Ag adds four Democrats
The House Agriculture Committee has finalized its full slate of 24 Democratic members after four of them received the necessary waivers to join the panel. 

The newest members, who have all served on the committee previously, are Rep. Salud Carbajal of California, Angie Craig of Minnesota, Chellie Pingree of Maine and Darren Soto of Florida. All four needed waivers from the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee to get on Ag while staying on other committees.
Del. Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands is leaving the committee. 

By the way: Craig was the victim of an attack at her D.C. apartment building Thursday morning. She was bruised but is otherwise OK, according to her staff.

States seek heat protections for workers

Seven states representing nearly one third of the U.S. population are asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency heat standard by May 1 to protect farm workers and other laborers.

“Extreme workplace heat poses a grave danger to the health and safety of tens of millions of outdoor and indoor workers in our states and across the nation,” the attorneys general of New York, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania said in their petition
“Acute kidney injuries resulting from heat strain and dehydration have … been documented in agricultural workers in the United States, including in California and Florida,” the petition said. 
Keep in mind: OSHA began the process of considering whether to issue a proposed heat standard over a year ago. Public Citizen petitioned for an emergency standard last year but the agency has not responded.
Senators suspect clothing firm of ties to slave labor
A bipartisan trio of senators is warning that clothing the Chinese company SHEIN sells in the U.S. may be made with cotton produced from slave labor.

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“Considering SHEIN’s large, decentralized network of suppliers, we are concerned that cotton fibers harvested in Xinjiang with forced labor may have entered SHEIN’s supply chains,” Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., say in a letter to the company’s CEO in Singapore.
The Trump administration banned import of cotton products from two major Chinese producers that are accused of using forced labor of Uyghur Muslims.
SHEIN, which calls itself an e-commerce retailer that serves 150 countries, says on its website: “We are a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and support the ten principles focused on human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption.”
Hurricane Ian ag losses estimated at $1B
University of Florida economists estimate Hurricane Ian caused $1.03 billion in damage to Florida agriculture, though some of that may have been offset by insurance.
The state’s citrus industry saw losses of approximately $247 million, the most of any sector. Vegetables and melons followed, with around $205 million in damage. Christa Court, who helped oversee the study, says she doesn’t know how much of the damage was covered by insurance.
She said it: “This is about making change, so we cannot stop now.” - Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh, speaking on Agri-PulseNewsmakers, about the future of USDA’s Equity Commission. 
CORRECTION:  Thursday’s Daybreak mischaracterized the Organic Trade Association's policy on modifying the Organic Foods Production Act. The group wants Congress to require the organic standards to be reviewed and updated regularly. 
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