NAWG Newsletter – Quick Edition: Week of March 7, 2013
We hope everyone had a great time at the Commodity Classic, and extend a warm welcome to our 2013-2014 NAWG Officers. Remember, updates are always available at www.facebook.com/wheatworld.org and www.twitter.com/wheatworld.
CBO Updates Savings Estimates for Farm Bills
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a new estimate of the savings that last year’s Senate and House farm bills would have produced, if they would have been signed into law. Last year’s Senate-passed bill was approximated to save $23.1 billion over the next 10 years, but now the CBO has reduced their estimate of the savings to $13.1 billion. The House version was approximated to save $35.1 billion last year, but the CBO currently estimates that the same bill to only save $26.6 billion.
Click the link to read the full letter that CBO sent to Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.): http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/s3240_hr6083_Stabenow_Ltr.pdf
House and Senate Drop Bills to Lower Crop Insurance Subsidies
Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) and Congressman John Duncan (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation in their respective chambers on Tuesday that would cut $40 billion in federal crop insurance subsidies over the next 10 years. The Crop Insurance Subsidy Reduction Act (S. 446, and H.R. 943) would return federal crop insurance premium subsidies to their pre-2000 levels. The introduction of this legislation was timely due to the fact that yesterday Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Bruce Babcock held a forum for hill staffers to share their views on crop insurance. The National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) responded to claims from the EWG that farmers “pray for disaster” in hopes to collect a crop insurance check. In a press release from NCIS Marvin Andris, a farmer from Milford, Illinois made the comment that the EWG members “obviously haven’t brushed shoulders with any farmer,” and that farmers are “into this because we want to raise crops, and the more bountiful, the more excited we become.” To read the full NCIS press release and view their video response you can visit their website at http://www.ag-risk.org/
Sequestration Has Officially Gone into Effect
Last week, Congress failed to come to an agreement that would have stopped the $85.3 billion spending cuts known as sequester, which went into effect at midnight on Friday, March 1. At this point, Congress has yet to produce a strategy that will reverse these cuts, but we do know the cuts will be phased in over the next seven months.
House Lawmakers Push to End Extra Permit Requirements for Agricultural Producers
Bipartisan legislation, HR 935, has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and others that would correct a problem caused by a ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled that the application of a pesticide constituted a source of pollution requiring a Clean Water Act permit. In response, the Environmental Protection Agency developed a Pesticide General Permit that protects aquatic applications of pesticides, but is not available for terrestrial applications. NAWG’s primary concern is that, if a producer were to apply a pesticide to a “water of the US” – which could occasionally carry water into a “navigable water of the United States” – that producer could be found in violation of the Clean Water Act. Violators of the act could potentially be subject to fines of up to $37, 500 per day.
Bills Introduced to Provide Relief from Transportation Regulation
Bi-partisan bills were introduced today in the House and Senate that would eliminate burdensome regulation, which require agriculture industry professionals, such as custom harvesters, to obtain a hazmat endorsement before allowing them to transport enough fuel for their operations. The Bills are sponsored in the Senate by Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and in the House by Congressman Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) and Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN). The legislation would exempt certain agricultural workers, including custom harvesters and producers who have a Class A Commercial Drivers License, from the need to obtain a hazardous material endorsement to operate a vehicle carrying diesel fuel of 1, 000 gallons or less – provided the tank is clearly marked. Under current rules, drivers without a Hazmat endorsement can only transport up to 119 gallons. The bills are endorsed by a number of groups across the industry including NAWG.
A full press release from Senator Roberts’ office can be found at http://www.roberts.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=b76b8b4e-612c-4506-a95c-9f60f123bb5f
Vilsack Testifies in front of House Agricultural Committee on State of the Rural Economy
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack testified in front of the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday at a hearing that was supposed to focus on the state of the rural economy but the Secretary spent the majority of his testimony discussing the sequester and its effects on meat inspections. The Secretary said that meat inspectors are unlikely to face immediate furloughs. The department must formally notify the inspectors, negotiate with the unions that represent them, and then allow time for individual discussions with any inspector who challenges the furlough. Vilsack estimated that the inspectors would ultimately have 11 to 12 days of unpaid leave for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year. The House Agriculture Committee released this statement following the hearing at http://agriculture.house.gov/press-release/ag-committee-questions-secretary-vilsack-plans-implement-sequester
Agriculture Coalition Sends letter to Ambassador Kirk Regarding EU Free Trade Negotiations
A letter from a coalition of agriculture groups, including NAWG and US Wheat Associates, was sent to Ambassador Ron Kirk, the United States Trade Representative, this week applauding the decision to launch negotiations with the European Union on a transatlantic Free Trade Agreement. The letter urged Ambassador Kirk to model the agreement after the Trans-Pacific Partnership; it should include negotiations that cover all significant barriers to trade in a single agreement. The letter also thanks Ambassador Kirk for the recommendation to negotiate a strong Sanitary-Phytosanitary chapter based on science and international standards. However, the letter mentions the coalition’s concern over whether the EU will show any interest in negotiating these issues, which are important to the agriculture industry. These issues are significant because they can be barriers to trade and negatively affect exports. The letter can be found at http://www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/EU-Agriculture-Letter.pdf
McCarthy Nominated as New Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
President Barack Obama has nominated Regina “Gina” McCarthy to become the next Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). McCarthy currently serves as the Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation at EPA and has worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations at the state level. McCarthy, a Massachusetts native, worked for former Presidential nominee Mitt Romney when he was Governor of Massachusetts as his top environmental protection official completing the state’s first climate protection plan regulating industrial emissions.
Senators Express Concern over STB Oversight in Berkshire-BNSF Acquisition
Seven Senators, including several from wheat states, sent a letter to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) this week urging the Board to exclude BNSF Railroad’s $8 billion acquisition premium from its regulatory rate base. The acquisition premium was paid for by Berkshire Hathaway when it acquired the railroad. The letter, which was led by Senators Franken (D-MN) and Vitter (R-LA,) also expressed concern over the fact that Berkshire was not authorized to own or control multiple rail carriers without the STB’s approval, which did not come to light until late in 2012. The letter can be found at http://www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/Letter-to-Chairman-Elliot-Berkshire-Hathaway.pdf
Federal Court Overturns Fisheries Services Findings on Northwest Fish
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a decision made by the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. The decision upheld biological opinions – issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency – over the impact that three crop protection products (Chlorpyrifos, Diazinon, and Malathion) have on threatened or endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest. In the lower Court ruling, 100 to 1,000 foot buffers around endangered fish bearing streams were deemed to be “reasonable and prudent alternatives”. The Fourth Circuit vacated these decisions, ruling that they were arbitrary and capricious, and has remanded the Bi-Op decisions back to the Fisheries Services for further decisions consistent with their opinion.
Wheat Farmers Return from Commodity Classic
Wheat farmers from around the nation returned home this week after attending meetings and talking to fellow farmers from the corn, soybean, and sorghum industries at Commodity Classic in Orlando, Florida. Those that attended participated in many educational learning sessions, and were able to see the latest in new equipment technology. At our business meetings we approved resolutions that give the NAWG executive team and staff the policy direction that they need in order to effectively carry the wheat grower’s voices on Capitol Hill. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary, Tom Vilsack, addressed the general session and discussed how sequestration was going to affect the USDA and ultimately all of us involved in agriculture. The Secretary also gave a passionate speech on agriculture’s work ethic, patriotism, values, and economic contributions and the necessity for those to continue to help maintain a strong United States of America.