WASHINGTON, April 15, 2016 - The Democratic presidential candidates tangled sharply on energy policy in Brooklyn last night ahead of next Tuesday’s New York primary. Before a boisterous audience, Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized Hillary Clinton for her support for fracking, and he challenged her to support a tax on carbon.

Clinton argued that natural gas is critical as a bridge toward moving from coal to renewable energy. Sanders said the United States needs to act on climate change as if “we were literally in a war.” Clinton said her slower approach made more sense politically.

GOP senator pledges WOTUS debate. The Senate appears headed for a floor debate over the Obama administration’s “waters of the U.S.” rule, commonly known as WOTUS. Democrats have managed to head off floor fights over WOTUS for the last couple of years. 

But Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told fellow members of the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday that he plans to offer amendments on the issue to spending bills for both the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA. The fiscal 2017 Energy-Water bill that funds the Corps of Engineers is set for floor debate in the Senate next week. 

The WOTUS rule is currently on hold because of court challenges, but the American Farm Bureau Federation and other groups fighting the measure are still pushing lawmakers to make sure it can’t be enforced even if the court stays are lifted. Hoeven says the WOTUS rule violates private property rights and “needs to be dealt with.” 

You go first. No, you go first. Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee are dug in over the GMO labeling issue. Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts says he’s waiting on a new proposal from ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow to resolve the issue. But Stabenow tells Agri-Pulse that Roberts has to move first. “We’re ready to go.” she said. 

Stabenow says she offered Roberts an alternative bill last week, but she wouldn’t discuss the specifics. Democrats have been insisting on mandatory on-package labelling. 

Despite the stalemate over GMO labeling, the biotech industry has reached a new milestone: USDA has formally decided for the first time that a crop - in this case, a mushroom - doesn’t need regulation because it was engineered with gene editing technique known as CRISPR. One scientist says the USDA decision is likely to accelerate use of CRISPR.

The Government Accountability Office, meanwhile, says that USDA needs to collect more data on the commingling of genetically engineered and non-biotech crops. GAO says the National Agricultural Statistics Service needs to survey organic growers about issues such as the cost of reshipping and re-storing commodities that are rejected because they contain traces of biotech crops. 

Committee Democrats slam draft nutrition bill. Top Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee are slamming a draft school nutrition bill before the panel has even scheduled a vote on it. 

“Equitable access to nutritious foods in and out of school is essential for our children to succeed. Yet, House Republicans have put forth a draft that limits access to this basic life necessity,” said Marcia Fudge, the senior Democrat on the subcommittee that handles the issue. 

The bill would reduce the number of lower income schools where all students automatically qualify for free breakfast and lunch. The draft also would give schools some relief from USDA’s new nutrition requirements.

A spokesman for committee Republicans says Democrats are playing “petty politics” over the bill that will ultimately hurt schools.

Gina McCarthy meets her match. EPA chief Gina McCarthy isn’t used to having to share the spotlight, but that’s what she had to do at the National Wildlife Federation’s 80th anniversary luncheon in Washington.

Her competition was a North American river otter named Loo, which is short for “Little Orphan Otter.” McCarthy was being presented with the group’s “Conservationist of the Year” award, but Loo the otter drew the oohs and aahs as a federation staffer explained the importance of clean rivers and streams to the environment.

McCarthy persevered and eventually brought the crowd gathered at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington to its feet, with her impassioned call for “recommitment” to the cause of a healthy environment.

Vilsack at Clinton Library. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is in Little Rock, Ark., today where he’ll speak on rural poverty at the Clinton library. A livestream of the event is available.

He said it: “When we had our first consultation with them … they could see that we had them dead to rights.” - A U.S. trade official explaining why China did not put up more of a fight against a U.S. challenge to subsidies for exports for a range of products, including garlic.


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