WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2015 - Lawmakers who want to stop the Obama administration from implementing its rule re-defining the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act are optimistic they’ll get a provision to do so included in the fiscal 2016 spending bill that Congress needs to pass by Dec. 11.
Courts have temporarily blocked the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule from taking effect, but getting a policy rider in the omnibus spending measure would provide some insurance in case the stay is lifted.
Such policy riders technically expire with the end of the fiscal year - in this case, fiscal 2016 ends on Sept. 30 - but such provisions are often renewed on an annual basis. It’s generally considered easier for appropriators to extend an existing rider than to add a new one.
During a recent briefing for House Republicans on budget issues, leaders of the House Appropriations Committee said the WOTUS rider was a “high priority” in the negotiations, according to Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. Republicans were unable to muster enough Democratic support to get the 60 votes necessary in the Senate to kill the rule.
The WOTUS rider would essentially push the issue into the next administration, he said.
John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican who is a member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittees that oversee the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, the agencies that jointly enforce the Clean Water Act, said “we’ve got a good shot to get” the WOTUS rider in the bill.
Other issues in the negotiations:
· Biotech labeling and the country-of-origin labeling for meat: Both issues could be addressed in the omnibus if leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee can agree on language. The committee’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, has been working on a compromise plan that would preempt state GMO labeling laws while likely requiring electronic disclosure. it would be “highly desirable” to include compromises on GMO labeling and COOL in the omnibus, but “we’re running out of time.”
· Funding for implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act: The White House requested an extra $109 million in fiscal 2016 for training, enforcement and other needs at FDA, and Jerry Moran, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said he was “working in that direction. … It’s a matter of negotiation, but from my perspective I would like to see us accomplish that.” The spending bills that came out of the House and Senate appropriations committees earlier this year had less than half of that.
· Dietary guidelines: Administration officials have pledged not to incorporate sustainability factors into the new guidelines, but the omnibus is likely to include language to ensure they can’t change their minds.
· Menu labeling: FDA has delayed enforcement of new labeling requirements until December 2016, but both Moran and his House counterpart, Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., want to include a policy rider to suspend implementation of the labeling rule. Like the WOTUS rider, once included in a bill, a policy rider on menu labeling could be extended beyond 2016.
· Trans fats: Food makers are worried about lawsuits while they await permission from FDA to continue using partially hydrogenated oils in some foods. An amendment to the House Agriculture spending bill would allow partially hydrogenated oils to continue to be classified as “generally recognized as safe” until the end of a three-year transition period ordered by FDA.
“We are trying to find a way to make certain that we eliminate the likelihood of frivolous lawsuits in a way that doesn’t intrude on the science of the FDA,” said Moran, who discussed the issue recently with the acting FDA Commissioner Stephen Ostroff.
A petition filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association in August seeks approval for use of trans fat sources in products including breakfast cereals, soups, frozen pizza, cookies and nutrition bars.
Meanwhile, a coalition that includes farm groups, bankers, the insurance industry and some conservation groups is pressing senators to ensure that the omnibus reverses the $3 billion cut to crop insurance that was in this fall’s two-year budget agreement.
“As an omnibus appropriations bill is negotiated, we urge you to uphold the promise to make the crop insurance program whole again without re-opening the farm bill,” the groups say in a letter to senators. The deal to reverse the cut was originally worked out in the House and is thought to be a bit more tenuous in the Senate. Still, Roberts has told Agri-Pulse he considers the agreement “titanium-clad.”
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