A bill expected to be released today would allow year-round, nationwide E15 sales in exchange for concessions to small refineries.

The measure sponsored by Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer and the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, among other senators is the latest attempt to legislate an E15 fix. Sources tell Agri-Pulse the bill includes relief for small refineries that have struggled with the cost of complying with the Renewable Fuel Standard

The Carper factor: The bill would still face an uphill battle without the backing of EPW Chairman Tom Carper. The Delaware Democrat has been vocal about his desire to protect small refineries and their workers. 

Fischer confirmed to Agri-Pulse Wednesdathe new bill was imminent. “We’ll have conversations with Sen. Carper, but I don't see other changes to the bill,” she said.

GOP hard-liners push deeper cuts in USDA

Hard-line conservative Republicans in the House are calling for steep cuts in USDA funding — well beyond those contained in a pending spending bill for fiscal 2024. 

The more than 140 amendments that were filed by Wednesday include proposals to eliminate international food aid and cut other programs and agencies back to FY19 spending levels. 

The House Rules Committee will ultimately decide which amendments get floor votes. But the amendments also include a proposal by Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., to stop USDA from operating commodity checkoff programs. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., is seeking to block implementation of the USDA Equity Commission’s interim report and shut off funding for USDA’s climate hubs.

Proposals by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., would prohibit funding for climate or green energy initiatives or for development of cultured meat products. 

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., filed an amendment with a sweeping set of proposals involving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

From the other side: Democrats are offering amendments that would restore some funding cuts in the spending bill. A proposal by Rep. Kim Schrier, R-Wash., would protect Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s flexibility to use the Commodity Credit Corp. account. 

Climate change plays a role in debate over Interior-EPA funding bill

The sweltering and dangerous heat that has gripped much of the country over the past month was cited by several Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee as they argued against severe cuts to the EPA’s budget.

“Climate change has reached a crisis point,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, also a House Agriculture Committee member. She said she was “so disappointed and frustrated by this bill before us,” referring to the FY24 Interior-Environment spending bill that the GOP-controlled committee approved Wednesday. The bill would cut EPA’s budget from its current level by nearly $4 billion, or 39%. 

Keep in mind: The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to take any action on its version of the bill.

USDA accepts 2.7 million acres into Grasslands CRP

USDA is accepting offers to enroll close to 2.7 million acres in the grassland portion of the Conservation Reserve Program. 

The number of accepted acres is lower than last year’s 3.1 million acres, because the program is reaching its overall acreage cap.

“With a low number of acres expiring in 2024 and 2025, getting any closer to the statutory cap of 27 million acres would hinder the USDA’s availability to conduct meaningful future signups or to implement existing and new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Partnership agreements in 2024,” said Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux. 

Keep in mind: Land enrolled in Grassland CRP is allowed to be grazed. Grazing can only be done in “emergency” conditions under rules of the general CRP signup.

Touton-Kelly-300.jpgBureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton listens to Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., ahead of Wednesday's hearing. 

Reclamation targets late summer for next steps on Colo. River proposal

The Bureau of Reclamation is currently evaluating a plan from the three lower Colorado River basin states to conserve at least 3 million acre-feet of water until 2026 with hopes to release an action alternative for public comment “later this summer,” Commissioner Camille Touton tells Agri-Pulse.

“We’re working through that now,” Touton said of the Lower Basin plan. “But we’ve got great partners in the lower basin states and the upper basin states, so I feel good about our ability to move forward.”

The plan, a compromise between negotiators from Arizona, California and Nevada, calls for Inflation Reduction Act funding to be used to compensate water users for up to 2.3 million acre-feet of reductions, while the remaining 700,000 acre-feet would either go uncompensated or be paid for using state or local funds.

Wine exports: Falling Japanese tariffs open new US export opportunity

The U.S. still lags far behind countries like France when it comes to exporting wine to the growing Japanese market. But Japan’s tariffs are falling thanks to the four-year-old U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement and there’s opportunity for the U.S. to grab more market share, according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

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The U.S. exported $144 million worth of wine to Japan in 2022, but Japan’s tariffs on bulk and fortified wines dropped to zero in April, putting the U.S. on equal footing with competitors like France and Chile for those categories. All of Japan’s tariffs on U.S. wine will be eliminated by 2025.

“With tariff advantages recently achieved through USJTA, U.S. wine exporters are well-positioned to regain market share in the Japanese market,” FAS said in an analysis

CDC to begin monitoring of cronobacter infections

The pathogen responsible for the massive 2022 powdered infant formula recall — Cronobacter sakazakii — will now be tracked more closely. 

The Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists voted in favor of putting Cronobacter sakazakii infections on the Nationally Notifiable Diseases List, which already includes other foodborne pathogens, such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. The list consists of about 120 illnesses and is managed by the CSTE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He said it. “Did the gopher get his permits? — Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, after Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, described how a gopher caused flooding in Boise in the 1970s by damaging a canal.