WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2017 - Senate Democrats will be going after Scott Pruitt’s record as Oklahoma attorney general as they try to use his confirmation hearing today to derail his nomination to run the EPA. 

Pruitt has strong support from farm groups, and there are no signs so far that any Republicans will desert Pruitt. He could get a few votes from Democrats, too. 

Democrats intend to highlight what they consider Pruitt’s poor record on environmental regulation and his skepticism on climate change. “It’s important for his entire record to be made public and I believe that will help members who may be undecided,” said a Democratic member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Ed Markey of Massachusetts. 

Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told Agri-Pulse that he expects to have bipartisan support for Pruitt.

Organic animal care rule due from USDA. USDA is expected to release a final rule today setting new animal care standards for livestock and poultry. 

The proposed rule was strongly contested by organic egg producers because it would prevent them from using covered porches to provide the birds’ the required outdoor access. Under the proposed rule, hens would have to be allowed out on the ground. 

Wait continues for Ag secretary.  President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration is just two days away and there is still no word on a nomination for agriculture secretary. The delay apparently is having an effect across the transition.  A spokesman for Trump told reporters yesterday that he is holding off announcing his sub-cabinet nominees until all of the nominations are final.

There is still wide speculation that former Gov. Sonny Perdue will get the nomination. One of Perdue’s most outspoken backers, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said he was crossing his fingers, hoping Perdue’s nomination would be announced soon.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, told reporters she could work with a southerner, but she expressed frustration that Agriculture has been left to the end. “The bigger concern to me is that this is the last department to have a nominee, and yet it’s such a critical part of the economy,” she said. 

A candidate that Latino groups have been promoting, former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, apparently is in Washington this week, based on posts on his Twitter account. “What a beautiful elegant hotel,” one tweet said about the new Trump International Hotel.

House Ag loses staff director. Scott Graves is stepping down as majority staff director for the House Agriculture Committee. There is no word yet on where he’s going.

Graves became staff director when Conaway took over as chairman in the last Congress. He was previously chief of staff for Conaway’s personal office.

Puzder going forward with Labor nomination. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has set its confirmation hearing for Labor nominee Andy Puzder for Feb. 2. 

CNN reported Monday that Puzder was having second thoughts about going through the confirmation process, but he responded on Twitter that he was “looking forward” to the hearing, and yesterday the hearing was officially scheduled. 

In announcing the hearing, committee Chairman Lamar Alexander said that Puzder “understands how excessive regulation can destroy jobs and make it harder for family incomes to rise. I look forward to hearing from him about how we can work together to create an environment to help create jobs for more Americans.”

Virginia beef headlines inauguration luncheon. Trump’s inauguration luncheon in the U.S. Capitol will feature grilled Angus beef from a small Lynchburg, Va., meat processor called Seven Hills Foods. The beef is sourced from local farmers and cooperatives. 

The meal also will include Maine lobster and Gulf shrimp.

USDA reconsiders risk on avocado imports. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has reassessed the potential risk of importing Hass avocados and is reopening the comment period on allowing the shipments. 

The agency’s original pest risk assessment considered the pink hibiscus mealybug as a significant pest that could follow the avocado shipments. But APHIS has since decided that growing conditions and packing practices in Colombia would effectively ensure that the pest doesn’t make it to the U.S.

Deadline for comments is Feb. 16.

Scotts, Monsanto get clearance on GMO grass. USDA has given final approval to creeping bentgrass genetically engineered to resist glyphosate, even though the developers of the biotech grass say they have no intention of commercializing it.

APHIS made the announcement yesterday that the GE bentgrass is not a plant pest, prompting criticism from environmental groups and others who say Monsanto and Scotts wanted APHIS to deregulate the grass so they could escape responsibility for controlling it. The Center for Biological Diversity said it would be exploring its legal options. 

The grass escaped from test plots in Oregon in 2003 and has since spread to Idaho. Jerry Erstrom, chairman of the Malheur County, Ore., Weed Board, called the USDA decision a “slap in the face to family farmers.” 

Scotts, however, has said it will continue to help farmers control the weed. And APHIS pointed to a memorandum of agreement between Scotts and APHIS that documents the company’s commitment to the management of the bentgrass in three Oregon counties.

USDA staff chief joins Russell Group. Karla Thieman, a former Senate Agriculture Committee aide who became chief of staff at USDA in 2015, is joining The Russell Group lobbying firm. 

Thieman served under three Democratic chairs of the Agriculture Committee - Tom Harkin, Blanche Lincoln and Debbie Stabenow -before going to work at USDA in 2014 as chief of staff to then-Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden.

She said it. “I’ve worked with southerners on the committee all the time.” - The Senate Agriculture Committee’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, on whether she was concerned about a southerner running USDA.

Steve Davies contributed to this report. 


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