What’s ahead for Washington this week: Gone hunting (for votes)

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, May 30 – This week’s focus turns to the countryside and the waterside, to political battles back at home and the BP oil disaster in the Gulf.

Following Memorial Day to honor veterans Monday, Agriculture Sec. Vilsack begins his week hearing Western views out in Montana, accompanied by White House Council of Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, and Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Then he heads to Missouri for USDA’s National Rural Summit on Thursday. In both Montana and Missouri, he’s likely to hear plenty of strong views about the way the U.S. EPA seems to be zeroing in on CAFOs with a wave of Clean Water Act enforcement actions.

With Congress in recess, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) will be especially busy. She’ll be back home in Arkansas this week fighting for her third Senate term against a tough primary challenge from Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. A clear measure of the threat is that Lincoln has brought in former President Bill Clinton to rally support with the June 8 run-off vote just a week away. With Halter ahead in some polls, national labor unions are spending heavily, with lots of out-of-state support, to oust Lincoln for being too conservative.

Other members of Congress and particularly Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), along with top administration officials, will be focusing instead on the BP disaster. Murkowski maintains that the Gulf “accident” shouldn’t be allowed to slow the pace of oil drilling. Others like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) point instead to details emerging which appear to indicate that BP ignored safety rules and deliberately ignored specific wellhead pressure warnings – making the blowout an avoidable, man-made disaster, not an accident.

Critics see the BP blowout – and last fall’s similar blowout off Australia’s coast which took 10 weeks and five relief wells to cap – as clear evidence that all offshore drilling should be banned until new rules and truly fail-safe technology can be developed. In this view, the Gulf’s devastated fishing areas and breeding grounds should signal an urgent need to accelerate the development of ethanol and other forms of renewable energy.

The BP spill very likely will be on the agenda when international climate experts meet in Bonn for a two-week summit starting Monday to prepare for the next climate meeting in Cancun in November which will work on a new international climate treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol in 2012. Meanwhile, congressional staffers will work away in the hope that the Senate will be able to make progress on key legislative efforts when it resumes business June 7 on extending biofuels tax breaks and taking up bills on climate change and immigration reform.

This week’s congressional hearings move out of town:

Tuesday, June 1

  • Senate Budget Committee field hearing on Infrastructure Investments: Promoting Economic Growth and Improving Safety Along the US 85 Corridor, Watford City, ND
  • Senate Budget Committee field hearing on The Energy Industry’s Impact on Housing in North Dakota, Williston, ND

Friday, June 4

  • Senate Energy Committee field hearing on S. 2895, to restore forest landscapes, protect old growth forests, and manage national forests in the eastside forests of the State of Oregon, Bend, Oregon.

USDA’s Economic Research Service & National Agricultural Statistics Service reports:

  • Tuesday, June 1, Crop Progress
  • Wednesday June 2, Weather-Crop Summary, Broiler Hatchery, Dairy Products
  • Friday, June 4, Dairy Products Prices, Floriculture Crops, Peanut Prices

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