What’s ahead for Washington this week: As oil gushes, renewables look great

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, June 27 – This will be another jam-packed week for Congress before it heads home for its week-long July 4th recess. . . also for the White House and Agriculture Sec. Vilsack. All three will be dealing with heightened interest in renewable energy due to the worsening BP oil disaster in the Gulf.

A potential legislative turning point will be the White House meeting Tuesday, postponed from last week, where President Obama will promote his energy & climate objectives with a bipartisan group of 24 senators including 13 Democrats, 10 Republicans and Independent Joe Lieberman.

A major Senate concern all week will be the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. But there are also a slew of oil-spill-related hearings in both the House and Senate, with new legislation being considered both to curb oil spills and to accelerate renewable energy development.

Secretary Vilsack begins his week calmly Monday, visiting the Longleaf Pine Forest/Francis Marion National Forest and taking part in the America’s Great Outdoors listening session in Charleston, S.C. Then on Tuesday, he's keynoting at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing – an annual event all about advancing biofuels, bio-based products, and renewable chemicals.

On Wednesday, Secretary Vilsack will testify in the Senate Ag Committee's opening hearing to prepare for the 2012 Farm Bill – and then heads directly to the sixth annual National 25x'25 Summit, one more of this week's events focused sharply on energy, in this case on “maximizing renewable resources to achieve a clean energy future and address the nation's vulnerability created by America’s dependence on foreign oil.” (Interesting how the derogatory term “foreign oil” now immediately brings up not just the Middle East but also visions of BP and Tony Hayward.)

Switching gears on Thursday, Secretary Vilsack testifies in a House hearing on child nutrition legislation and takes part in a conference call to discuss progress on the one year anniversary of the Obama administration's Food Safety Working Group.

Meanwhile, USDA is holding a conference this week aimed at upgrading its services as part of its new “Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems” (MIDAS) program. The aim is to equip FSA county offices with new technology “to transform the way FSA field staff delivers farm programs and benefits to producers served by more than 2,200 offices throughout the United States.”

The House Agriculture Committee begins work Wednesday on legislation from Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) designed to open up Cuba to travel and U.S. farm exports.

Congressional hearings this week include:

Monday, June 28

  • House Agriculture Committee field hearing, Fayetteville, NC, to review U.S. agriculture policy in advance of the 2012 Farm Bill, with testimony from producers.

  • Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on the Nomination of Elena Kagan to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Tuesday, June 29

  • House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing on Wind Farms: Compatible with Military Readiness? Witnesses include military personnel and Stu Webster of the American Wind Energy Association.

  • Joint Economic Committee hearing on Economic Recovery through Research and Innovation.

Wednesday, June 30

  • Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on Maintaining Our Domestic Food Supply through a Strong U.S. Farm Policy, with Agriculture Sec. Vilsack, in the first of a series of four hearings to prepare for writing the 2012 Farm Bill. The next three hearings in the series focus on the Rural Economy, Conservation Practices, and Energy.

  • House Agriculture Committee markup for H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act which would prohibit the President from: (1) regulating or prohibiting travel to or from Cuba by U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents or any transactions incident to such travel; and (2) restricting direct transfers from a Cuban financial institution to a U.S. financial institution executed in payment for a product authorized for sale under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.

  • House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on Legislation to Respond to the BP Oil Spill and to Prevent Future Oil Well Blowouts.

Thursday, July 1

  • House Education and Labor Committee hearing with Agriculture Sec. Vilsack on H.R.5504, the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act, to improve the nutritional quality of meals in schools and child care settings; expand access for over 32 million children to healthy meals year-round in schools, child care, and community based settings; and for the first time, establish nutrition standards for vending machine foods sold on school grounds.
  • Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the Flash Flood at Camp Albert Pike on the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas.
  • House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing to review the administration and delivery of conservation programs.

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

  • Monday, June 28, Crop Progress

  • Tuesday, June 29, Weather-Crop Summary, Agricultural Prices

  • Wednesday, June 30, Acreage, Grain Stocks, Rice Stocks, Broiler Hatchery, Egg Products, State Export Data

  • Thursday July 1, Dairy Products

  • Friday, July 2, Dairy Products Prices, Peanut Prices

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