WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2017 - President Trump is getting pressure from farm groups and rural business interests to ensure that his White House has the staff in place to address the needs of rural areas. 

letter signed by more than 40 groups calls on Trump to set up an office of rural policy in the White House or designate a senior member of the staff to focus on rural issues. “Such an individual or office could become an added voice to ensure that the interests of rural Americans are addressed across the highest levels of your Administration,” the letter says. 

Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, one of the groups behind the letter, said the issues facing rural America are beyond the scope of any single department or agency, including USDA.

Trump road funding plan alarms rural states. President Trump’s plan to use private investment to finance his massive infrastructure initiative is running into trouble with a key Senate committee chairman who’s concerned that the proposal won’t help rural states.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., says that public-private partnerships “may be innovative solutions for crumbling inner cities, but (they) do not work for rural areas.”

Wyoming Transportation Director William Panos told the committee yesterday that offering tax credits for investors wouldn’t be enough to supplement whatever revenue the projects would produce. Panos was speaking on behalf of Wyoming as well as four other states: Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota

The 2009 economic stimulus bill authorized the use of so-called “Build America Bonds” to pay for infrastructure projects. But Panos said that only one of the five rural states for which he was speaking used those bonds to borrow money. And even in that case, federal funds were used to pay the money back, he said. 

Cindy Bobbitt, a county commissioner in Oklahoma, said rural roads benefit the entire country but counties are struggling just to maintain the roads that they have. “We grow the agricultural products in our states and rural counties and it has to be delivered to the urban areas,” she said.

Environmentalists sue over Trump regulatory order. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen and the Communications Workers of America have joined in a lawsuit challenging restrictions that Trump is imposing on agency rule making. 

Trump’s two-for-one executive order requires agencies to eliminate two regulations for every one new one that is issued. The lawsuit claims that the order exceeds Trump’s constitutional authority and that it would prevent agencies from carrying out their responsibilities under various laws. 

Lawyers in the nation’s capital have been struggling to figure out the order’s implications. An analysis by the OFW law firm concluded that it would require USDA to eliminate some regulations in order to issue a rule implementing the new GMO labeling requirements. 

But another analysis by the Bracewell law firm notes that it isn’t clear what kind of regulations would count toward meeting the two-for-one requirement. The possibility that killing two tiny rules might be all that’s necessary to make room for one large rule. 

“Anyone who has been involved with federal regulatory issues can imagine how an agency could easily ‘game’ the two-for-one requirement,” according to that analysis. 

House Ag announces first two hearings. The House Agriculture Committee is gearing up for consideration of a new farm bill with a pair of hearings set for next week. 

The first hearing next Wednesday will look at the state of the rural economy. The second hearing, on Thursday, will look into the pros and cons of restricting the types of foods and beverages that people can buy with their SNAP benefits. 

Nutrition advocates and industry groups has long resisted imposing new purchasing restrictions on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

Democrat firing back over SNAP report. A leading Democrat on the House panel, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, says he’s writing a response to a report that the committee’s Republican majority issued on its lengthy investigation into SNAP. 

McGovern doesn’t believe the report is factually wrong. He just says it seemed slanted to avoid admitting that SNAP “is a very, very good program.” McGovern says that his analysis, which he plans to release ahead of next Thursday’s hearing, will be quoting from the lengthy testimony that the committee took during the last Congress. 

Trump urged to challenge China on U.S. ethanol, distiller grains.  The U.S. Grains Council and two ethanol industry trade groups, Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association, are asking Trump to challenge Chinese duties on ethanol and distillers dried grains.

China last month hit U.S. distillers grains with anti-dumping duties of 42.2 to 53.7 percent and countervailing duties of 11.2 to 12 percent. China also has increased its tariff on U.S. ethanol from 5 percent to as much as 30 percent and 40 percent.

Those tariffs are “undermining the substantial investments our industries have made in developing a cooperative and mutually beneficial trade relationship with China,” the groups say in a joint letter to Trump.

Stabenow adds to Senate Ag staff. Kevin Bailey a veteran of USDA and the Obama White House, has joined the Democratic minority staff at the Senate Agriculture Committee. 

The Iowa native, who held several posts at USDA starting in 2011, was most recently senior adviser for USDA’s Rural Utilities Service. He also worked at one point for the White House Domestic Policy Council, handling agriculture and immigration issues. 

They said it. “As you witnessed first-hand during the campaign, the issues facing rural America are no less significant than those facing urban parts of the country, but can more easily be overlooked because America’s small towns and rural areas make up just 15 percent of the nation’s population.” - the letter to Trump from farm and rural organizations. 

Spencer Chase and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.