WASHINGTON, May 18, 2016 - Could a Donald Trump presidency be what farmers need to stop EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule? House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said he believes so.

“I’m hopeful that if we have a Republican president, one of the early things that the new (EPA) administrator could do is actually start over on that rule on their own initiative and eliminate the need for these lawsuits that are out there,” Conaway told Agri-Pulse. 

Conaway’s comments came after a two-hour subcommittee hearing that allowed lawmakers and witnesses to air their grievances over government regulation and their fears of WOTUS.

Kate English, a witness and citrus farmer representing the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, said Tuesday that WOTUS would be devastating. She said she was thrilled when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a stay on WOTUS, but she is still bracing for the rule’s implementation. She said all of her citrus trees will eventually need to be replaced because of damage from citrus greening disease. But she also said she fears the EPA may not let her replant under WOTUS because of her farm’s proximity to bodies of water.

“There is so much uncertainty on how this rule will affect us,” said Richard Ebert, another witness and president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

 … and speaking of Trump: Conaway said he’s looking forward to a sit-down meeting with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s team to talk about agriculture policy. Nothing has been scheduled, he said, but stressed that his staff is preparing. Conaway told reporters last week that he has volunteered to help Trump come up with specific farm policies that he could support during his campaign. Shortly afterward, the Trump campaign lauded the support of Conaway and other House GOP committee chairmen. 

Vilsack to make the case for TPP in Colorado. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack will be delivering the keynote speech today at the Denver World Trade Center’s 43rd annual World Trade Day luncheon in Denver and the main topic will be the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“Passage of TPP by the U.S. Congress will provide new market access across the board for America's farmers and ranchers by lowering tariffs, eliminating barriers, boosting exports and supporting jobs in America's rural economies,” the USDA said ahead of Vilsack’s speech. “Colorado’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities have much to gain from passage of the TPP, which will reduce tariffs and increase markets for top exports including beef and veal, wheat, dairy and corn.”

Senate appropriators eye Cuba office. The Senate’s fiscal 2017 spending bill would fund a USDA office in Cuba, which is a priority for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The bill also would provide another funding increase to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to implement new regulations on farms and processors required by the Food Safety Modernization Act. 

The chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Jerry Moran, said he hopes to include in a manager’s amendment a provision to roll back proposed regulations that might limit the ability of convenience stores to provide food stamp benefits. “It seems likely to me that we can find common ground” on the issue within the committee, he said. 

Read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter for more on the bill.

House fails to pass Zika pesticide bill. The House of Representatives on Tuesday failed to pass the Zika Vector Control Act, a bill that proponents say would have made fighting the virus easier. The bill would have altered current environmental regulations that ban spraying pesticides near some bodies of water to attack bugs, such as the mosquitoes that can carry the Zika virus.

The yeas were 262 and the nays were 159, but proponents needed two-thirds of the vote to pass it under House rules.

The defeat came despite the support of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

 “The threat of a local infection of Zika virus in the United States is real,” the group said in a statement. “Until a vaccination is developed and available, vector control remains the single most important means to protecting our citizens against Zika. NASDA Members are responsible for a wide range of mosquito control activities which are currently impeded by duplicative, court-imposed federal permitting requirements.”

Hearing to focus on military veterans who are taking up life on the farm.The House Agriculture Committee is dedicating a hearing today to military veterans who have gone from helping defend the U.S. to help keeping it fed.  

“We’ve got good examples where veterans have come back and plugged in to production agriculture and we’ll try to highlight some of those guys,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said about the hearing. 

He said it: Asked if he was still pessimistic about Senate passage of a biotech labeling bill by July 1, Senator Chuck Grassley told reporters Tuesday that “I’m not saying there are reasons to be optimistic, but you can obviously be more optimistic when you know people are talking and trying to negotiate than when they aren’t.”

The Iowa Republican was critical of ranking member Debbie Stabenow’s most recent proposal but said Chairman Pat Roberts asked him to review it and consider some changes. 

“It’s the first light at the end of the tunnel in the last couple months,” he added. 

Philip Brasher and Sara Wyant contributed to this report.