Keith Good: EPA Moving Ahead with Plans to Finalize Clean Water Rule


Philip Brasher reported yesterday at Agri-Pulse Online that, “Despite stiff opposition from congressional Republicans, EPA is moving ahead with plans to finalize its proposed Clean Water Act rule by this spring, Administrator Gina McCarthy said today.

“‘We want to be informed by what people said to us during the comment process as well as what we heard in our 100-plus meetings with different stakeholders,’ she told reporters. ‘So, we have a lot of work to do, but we’re certain that we can get that done in a timely way.'”

Mr. Brasher added that, “McCarthy said the agency hasn’t decided whether to replace a separate measure, an interpretive rule that provides standards for farming practices that are exempt from the pollution law’s Section 404 permitting requirements. The fiscal 2015 omnibus spending bill that cleared Congress last weekend will strike down the interpretive rule, which was opposed both by farm groups and environmentalists.

“‘We haven’t even had that discussion’ about whether to replace the interpretive rule, ‘but I want to make sure that we listen to the agriculture community about how we provide advice in a way that it’s understood and it adds value,’ McCarthy said. ‘The interpretive rule clearly didn’t make that mark even though it was well intended by USDA and EPA. Congress heard that and I heard that as well.'”

news release earlier this week from the House Committee on Natural Resources indicated that, “House Natural Resources Committee majority staff released a report today that questions the independence and accountability of the peer review process in recent Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing decisions. The report entitled, ‘Under the Microscope: An examination of the questionable science and lack of independent peer review in Endangered Species Act listing decisions‘ studies the federal government’s peer review process for 13 different ESA listing decisions made by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) since July 2013.  The report found numerous examples of potential bias and conflicts of interests with the peer reviewers and a lack of transparency and consistency in the peer review process.”

Crop Watch

recent update from the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) indicated that, “Crop price projections for the 2014/15 marketing year are little changed from last month’s FAPRI-MU update. For most crops, projections for 2015/16 and subsequent years have been reduced from last month’s projections, in part because of the unanticipated sharp decline in crude oil prices.

“With little change in USDA estimates of supply and demand, the projected corn price for the 2014/15 marketing year is $3.50 per bushel, the same as in the November update.

“The projected decline in U.S. corn production in 2015 contributes to an increase in corn prices. However, lower oil prices moderate the increase. Projected corn prices increase to $3.79 per bushel for the 2015/16 marketing year and $3.98 by 2018/19. These prices are at least $0.10 per bushel lower than indicated in the November update.”

The FAPRI update added that, “USDA increased its estimate of 2014/15 use of U.S. soybeans, but this was largely anticipated in last month’s projections. The marketing year average price is projected at $10.00 per bushel, also the same as in last month’s update.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg writer Justin Doom reported yesterday that, “California would need enough water to fill 16.7 million Olympic-sized swimming pools to recover from its historic drought, NASA scientists using satellite data estimate.

“Water storage in the state’s Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins was about 11 trillion gallons below seasonal levels during the peak of the three-year drought, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said today in a statement. An Olympic-size pool contains about 660,000 gallons of water.”

Also yesterday, Eric Atkins reported at The Globe and Mail Online that, “The honeybees responsible for pollinating one-third of the food we eat face a host of threats, from bloodsucking mites and viruses to pesticides and climate change.

“But researchers at the University of Guelph have taken a big step toward fighting the most destructive and widespread killer of honeybee larvae, a disease known as American foulbrood.

“For the first time, scientists have identified a toxin released by the pathogen, and come up with a drug that could stop the disease that is prevalent in North America, Europe and other parts of the world.”

Bloomberg writers Anatoly Medetsky and Whitney McFerron reported yesterday that, “Russia said it will increase the price it pays for wheat in a move to boost domestic stockpiles as the currency’s plunge drives up the cost of bread.

“The country plans to increase grain reserves to at least 5 million metric tons to ensure supplies for flour millers and animal feed producers, Agriculture Minister Nikolai Fedorov told reporters today in Moscow. Prices are rising in Russia, the world’s fourth-largest wheat exporter, after foreign buyers took advantage of the weakening currency to increase grain purchases.”

The article pointed out that, “Russia’s food inflation accelerated to 12.6 percent in November with the economy teetering on the brink of a recession. The ruble tumbled to a record low today versus the dollar as panic swept across the country’s financial markets after a surprise interest-rate increase failed to stem the run on the currency.”

Meanwhile, USDA’s Economic Research Service noted in a recent chart that, “With a 12.9-percent share, food ranked third behind housing (33.6 percent) and transportation (17.6 percent) in a typical American household’s 2013 expenditures… . Between 2004 and 2013, prices for all U.S. goods and services rose an average of 2.4 percent per year, while food prices increased an average of 2.8 percent.”

And Bloomberg writer Rudy Ruitenberg reported yesterday that, “France will pay farmers to grow faba beans and other crops that can add protein to livestock rations as Europe’s largest beef producer seeks to cut its dependence on imported soybeans, where China’s rising demand threatens supply.

“The government will allocate 49 million euros ($61 million) a year to pay a premium for sowing protein sources such as peas or sweet lupine, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said at a news conference in Paris today.

“‘We need to develop a plant-protein strategy for France,’ Le Foll said. ‘The flow of protein feed to Asia is becoming greater and greater. For Europe, security of supply is not guaranteed in the long term.'”

Tax Extenders- Budget

Michael A. Memoli reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “A turbulent lame-duck session of Congress came to a sudden end Tuesday as the Senate rushed to clear a lingering tax bill and some key presidential nominations in a late-night flurry of final votes.

“Lawmakers signed off on a deal to extend $45 billion worth of tax breaks through this calendar year, ensuring that businesses and individuals can claim the deductions in their next IRS filings. The 76-16 vote also approved what had been a separate bill to create new tax-free accounts that can be used for the care of disabled family members.”

The article explained that, “The agreement sent lawmakers home earlier than many had expected just a few days ago, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) forced members into a marathon weekend session as he made a final, unsuccessful effort to derail President Obama’s new immigration policy during consideration of the $1.1-trillion spending deal.

Congress passed the bill Saturday and Obama signed the package into law without ceremony Tuesday night, the White House announced.”

Mr. Memoli stated that, “The Senate formally adjourned shortly before midnight. The House, which has already wrapped up its work, will follow suit this week.”

More specifically with respect to the tax issue, John D. McKinnon reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The vote was 76-16 to clear the bill that now goes to President Barack Obama , who is expected to sign it.

“The temporary breaks–known collectively as extenders–include more than 50 tax incentives for businesses, individuals and nonprofits.”

Mr. McKinnon pointed out that, “Some are narrow, such as a write-off for teachers’ classroom-supply purchases and depreciation breaks for motor sports complexes and restaurants. Others are broad, such as a deduction for state and local sales taxes, and a widely used credit for business research. One popular provision allows people age 70½ or older to make tax-free charitable distributions from their individual retirement accounts.”

Bernie Becker and Ramsey Cox reported last night at The Hill Online that, “The House easily passed the one-year tax legislation almost two weeks ago, after President Obama and congressional liberals torpedoed an emerging deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

“That deal would have permanently extended business incentives that the GOP favors, like the research credit and a preference for business expensing…”

On the Senate floor Monday, Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) indicated that, “One of the most important provisions in the act is the section 179 depreciation and expensing provision for small businesses. That is the provision I particularly want to focus on today and talk about and discuss why it is so important for our small businesses and for our entire country.

“Section 179 allows farmers and other small businesses to expense and depreciate property they have purchased or repaired for their operations. That is important to them so that they don’t see a tax increase, but it also keeps our economy going. Without it, small business will buy and repair less equipment, slowing down our manufacturing base and slowing down our economy. Quite simply, that means fewer jobs. It is not only because small business’s costs are increased, but it is also because of the uncertainty that is created when they don’t know the rules of the road. That is why this fix needs to be done on a permanent basis.”

And a news release yesterday from the American Soybean Association (ASA) noted that, “Earlier this evening, the Senate passed a one-year extension of multiple tax incentives and credits, including several that have direct impacts on soybean farmers. The [ASA] welcomed passage of the bill, which would extend the dollar-per-gallon Biodiesel Tax Incentive, as well as the Section 179 expensing provision that farmers and other business owners use when purchasing new equipment and infrastructure, among other items.”

Policy Issues

Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy blog that, “Six members of Congress have written Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to draft a new rule defining ‘actively engaged’ for a person to receive farm-program payments. Lawmakers say there are cases of people being designated as management members of a corporate entity just to boost farm-program payments and get around the payment cap.

“‘This has enabled non-farming members to receive farm subsidies,’ the lawmakers wrote. ‘We hope that you will work to end these abuses.’

“The six lawmakers signing the letter were Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, as well as Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.”

Lydia Wheeler reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Democratic lawmakers want to know what’s being done to stop the overuse of antibiotics in food animals.

“Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) sent a letter this week to the co-chairs of the newly formed interagency Task Force for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria — outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. In the letter, they question how the group plans to address what they called ‘critical gaps’ in current Food and Drug Administration policies.

“With nearly 75 percent of all antibiotics sold used in food production and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in contaminated food accounting for 400,000 infections in the U.S. annually, the senators questioned whether the FDA can effectively enforce and measure its own guidelines.”

Also, Timothy Cama reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) published a report outlining 40 different options that it said could improve the country’s ethanol mandate.

“The BPC said it set out to find a ‘middle ground’ for reforming the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), acknowledging that advocates on both sides of the issue have pushed for complete repeal of the law or for no changes at all.

“It convened an advisory group of stakeholders to describe various options, resulting in the Tuesday report.”

Trade Issues

Yesterday, on the AgriTalk radio program, Mike Adams hosted a panel discussion on agricultural trade issues.

The panel included Stephanie Mercier, Senior Policy and Advocacy Advisor for the Farm Journal Foundation; Ambassador Darci Vetter, Chief Ag Negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; Nick Giordano, Vice President and Counsel for International Affairs for the National Pork Producers Council; and Ellen Terpstra, President and CEO of the International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council.

An audio replay of yesterday’s trade conversation is available here (MP3- 21:53), while an unofficial transcript of the AgriTalk discussion is available here.

The panel focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and some WTO related issues.

In part, Amb. Vetter indicated that, “You know, we are making good progress with Japan in both the rules and the market access arena, as we are with the other economies at the table. As you know, Japan has not previously included agriculture in its free trade agreements or the economic partnership agreements, as it calls them, and so this is a new foray for Japan.

“But frankly, the TPP itself, the collection of nations, the high standard they are seeking both in rules and market access created, really, a situation where they were willing to put those tariffs and those quotas on the table for the first time. And so we’re working hard with them. It’s difficult. It’s sensitive negotiations. But we’re confident that we’re going to achieve meaningful market access across the broad range of agricultural products for U.S. producers and processors.”

Amb. Vetter noted that, “Well, I think it’s in our interest to have a TPP with Japan, frankly… Japan is our number one export market for pork, for beef, it’s number three for rice. We have a very strong trade relationship with Japan on agriculture, despite the fact that they have very high tariffs and can have very difficult to navigate quota administration and other barriers. And so the potential, if we can work to get rid of some of those barriers and dismantle them, is really quite vast.”

Recall that Sec. of Agricultural Tom Vilsack earlier this month, while making a presentation to the CFTC Ag Advisory Committee, expressed concern with Canada’s role in the TPP talks: “We still have one other participant in this agreement who has not stepped up as much as they ought to have, given what’s at stake, and that’s our Canadian friends. They have refused up to this point to even enter into negotiations. Candidly I think it’s ill-advised and it’s unfortunate. And it may very well be that if that attitude persists, that you could find an agreement that does exclude a country, but I don’t believe at the end of the day it will be Japan.”

With respect to TPA, Amb. Vetter indicated that, “The administration is working very closely with both houses of Congress, and in a bipartisan fashion, and are hopeful that we can address TPA and move it forward early next year.”

On TTIP, Amb. Vetter pointed out that, “In fact just this past week Ambassador Froman, our U.S. Trade Representative, and Cecilia Malmstrom, the Commissioner for Trade of the EU, met to lay out what they’re calling a fresh start for the TTIP negotiations. For those of you paying attention to European politics, the new European Commission was just seated at the end of October, and so they’ve been going through a political transition.

“But now that that commission is in place, the key priority is to really get those talks, put them into a higher gear, so to speak. So we expect a number of meetings to happen at the first of the year to outline how we will address key issues in the negotiations, and that the next formal negotiating round would take place in February.”

“And there are, of course, significant SPS issues related to biotechnology, related to pathogen reduction treatments, that currently do inhibit trade. We’ve actually seen our share of agricultural imports into Europe, our market share decline, definitely an opposite trend of what we’re seeing in other countries around the globe, and so we do want to reverse that. But I think there’s a way to have a conversation about, frankly, basing regulation on science, about coordinating with some regulators on how we move forward,” Amb. Vetter said.

Shawn Donnan reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Yet even as trade officials pledge a ‘fresh start’ for the talks to build a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a sense of resignation is setting in.

“Ministers and officials are coming to the conclusion that, unless something radical changes — or both sides settle on something less ambitious — there is unlikely to be a deal by the end of 2015 as some European politicians have called for. Some officials now even contend that President Obama, who leaves office in January 2017, is unlikely to be the US leader who shepherds a great transatlantic pact through Congress.”

In other trade developments, Reuters writer Karl Plume reported yesterday that, “Chinese buyers signed nine contracts for a total of more than 1 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans at a ceremony in Chicago on Tuesday.”

And Bloomberg News reported yesterday that, “China’s government has told traders and officials that the Ministry of Agriculture approved lifting a ban on imports of a genetically-modified corn variety that’s commonly grown in the U.S., as trade talks between the two countries begin today, said people familiar with the matter.

“The approval covers imports of the MIR 162 corn variety developed by Syngenta AG, according to people who were notified verbally by officials at the ministry. They asked not to be identified because information hasn’t been made public.”

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