History is repeating itself in the legal battle over the “waters of the U.S.” rule. Just as in 2015, when courts issued repeated rulings blocking implementation of the Obama administration’s rule, courts have again acceded to requests from states and industry groups to enjoin the Biden administration’s rule.

The latest development came Wednesday when Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland agreed with 24 states to block the rule within their boundaries. That makes 26 states where the Biden rule cannot be enforced.

What’s next: Hovland says the administration should have waited to publish its rule until after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Clean Water Act Sackett case. It’s not clear when that decision will come out, but the court’s last scheduled day to issue opinions is June 26.

If you’re keeping score: The states where Biden’s WOTUS is now blocked are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Michael Regan outside EPA 4.12.23 announcment.jpgEPA Administrator Michael Regan

Biofuel producers, refiners unite on tailpipe standards

The biofuel industry has found some common ground with oil refiners - both sectors are unhappy with EPA’s plan to tighten tailpipe emission standards.

Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper says the plan “would effectively force automakers” to produce more EVs. The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers claims the proposal would “effectively ban” gasoline and diesel vehicles. 

By the way: EPA estimates the standards will ensure that about two-thirds of cars sold by 2032 are electric vehicles. But EVs still face significant barriers, including the high cost of vehicles and a lack of charging stations. 

“One of the big complaints we're hearing now is that when people get to those (existing) charging stations, they aren't maintained, they're broken,” Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Cox Automotive, told CNBC. “So we've not only got to build out the charging infrastructure, we've also got to figure out a way to keep it maintained.”

climate signs.jpgScenes from EPA Administrator Michael Regan's announcement of emission plan. (Lydia Johnson)

Consumers fall way short on whole grains

Americans aren’t coming close to meeting the government’s recommendations for whole grains, according to a new USDA study

Under the federal dietary guidelines, a 2,000-calorie diet would include 6 ounces of grains, with at least half being whole grains. But whole grain consumption barely budged from 1998 to 2018, rising from an average of 0.4 ounces per 1,000 calories to 0.43 ounces over the two decades, the study says.

One bright spot: School food has become the most whole-grain-dense food source.

Consumers finally seeing relief at supermarkets

Egg price inflation is finally easing, and consumers are seeing lower prices across other grocery aisles as well. Egg prices dropped 10.4% in March after falling 6.7% in February, although they’re still up 36% year over year due to the avian flu outbreak. 

Prices for meat and poultry and dairy products also were lower in March as the cost of eating at home dropped for the first time since September 2020.

USDA funds some Chinese research

U.S. federal agencies – including the USDA - sent $9.9 million to entities in China in fiscal year 2021, up from $6.5 million in FY 2020, according to an analysis by the U.S. Government Accountability Office

USDA provided $1.7 million, or 3%, of the total $48 million for assistance awards or contracts from 2018 through 2021. 

The targets of USDA funding included a study on invasive species and on causes and effects of tree diseases through the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Zoology. Another USDA-funded study, conducted by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, was to assess the natural enemies of invasive species that originate in China. 

Colorado legislature passes ‘right to repair’ bill

Colorado state legislators have approved a bill requiring agricultural equipment manufacturers to “provide parts, embedded software, firmware, tools, or documentation” to equipment owners or third-party repair shops.

The bill now goes to the desk of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

Manufacturers that don’t comply with the law would be classified as engaging in “a deceptive trade practice” under the measure. However, the bill also says independent repair providers aren’t authorized to make modifications that deactivate safety notification systems or bring equipment out of compliance with safety emissions laws. 

USA Rice exec optimistic on Cuba after trip

USA Rice’s vice president of policy and government affairs, Peter Bachmann, is back from a trip to Cuba, and he’s optimistic that, under the right conditions, the country could resume buying some U.S. grain.

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“Right now, Cuba buys most of its rice from Vietnam. … With competitive pricing and given our logistical advantage, there is a possibility that limited, targeted sales from the U.S. could occur in the foreseeable future as a way to slowly get back into the market,” he said. 

Cuba sporadically buys small amounts of U.S. rice, but it’s been more than a decade since Cuba was buying millions of dollars' worth of the U.S. grain annually.

Survey: Employee morale improving at USDA

USDA is touting results of an employee survey showing that workplace satisfaction is improving.

The department noted that it ranked 12th of 17 large agencies in the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” survey conducted in 2022 by the Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group.

The department jumped two spots from the 2021 survey and four from the 2020 survey, when it was ranked 16th.

He said it. “The phrase ‘waters of the United States,’ a term that has been hopelessly defined for decades, remains even more so under the 2023 Rule.” – North Dakota federal judge Daniel Hovland in his WOTUS ruling.