NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – January 9, 2009

January 9, 2009

Change is in the Air: A new Congress, a new Administration, and a new National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition! On January 1, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) launched as the new home for grassroots organizations engaged in sustainable agriculture policy at the federal level. NSAC will build upon and integrate the work of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (SAC) and the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture – two organizations that have been at the forefront of federal policy reform to support family farms and ecologically-based food and farming systems for the last twenty years. If you’d like more information about the new organization contact Aimee Witteman: awitteman@sustainbleagriculturecoalition.org


Stimulus Bill Percolating: This week saw lots of action on the emerging economic stimulus bill, with President-elect Obama on the Hill meeting with congressional leaders and congressional committee leadership announcing tentative hearing and mark-up schedules. The President-elect made his first major speech since the election on Thursday and focused his remarks on the need for the stimulus package. While the original talk about having a package ready to vote on and send to the White House right after the Inauguration has given way to reality, there is increasing talk about nonetheless being finished with the bill before the mid-February congressional recess week.

According to Congress Daily, when the President-elect met with House congressional leaders on Tuesday to discuss the package, Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) pushed for a fair share of development fund resources for rural communities and impoverished areas. Clyburn also made a point of saying that aid to states may not reach their intended targets if the Governors of those states are not on board with the proposed spending, and in such cases, the state should be bypassed and cities, counties and development authorities closer to the people in rural and impoverished areas should be given the authority.

On Wednesday, Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., chairman of the House Agriculture Specialty Crops, Rural Development and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee, held a meeting to pitch rural stimulus issues, in particular highlighting the need to fund the substantial backlogs in unfunded rural water and sewer and rural community facility grants.

NSAC has also been pushing for one or two year extra funding for the Value-Added Producers Grants program and the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, both of which were shortchanged in funding during consideration of last year’s farm bill and both of which stimulate jobs in rural areas.

Anti-hunger groups also continue to pitch a temporary increase in spending of roughly $25 billion for federal nutrition programs as a key aspect for the safety net portion of the stimulus bill. By the beginning of this fiscal year, the number of participants in the food stamp program has increased by 4 million, to 31 million, with further increases on the horizon as unemployment continues to rise. On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office released new cost projections for government programs, and predicted the food stamp program would rise from $39 billion last year to an even $50 billion this year, a 27 percent increase.

New House Democratic Committee Assignments Made: The House Committee on Agriculture has at least three new Democratic members: Representatives Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA) and Debbie Halvorson (D-IL). A glimpse into the new Agriculture committee members:

● Rep. Kurt Schrader http://www.kurtschrader.com/2008/03/09/welcome/ (OR 5th District) – Coast and central interior (including South Portland suburbs): Former Oregon State Representative and Senator; veterinarian; lives on historic farmstead in Clackamas County; former organic farmer; member of Oregon Farm Bureau.

● Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper http://kathydahlkemperforcongress.com (PA 3rd District) – Erie, PA area: Former Director of the Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park; family-owned landscaping business; Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, and Clean Water Action endorsements.

● Representative-elect Debbie Halvorson http://debbiehalvorson.com (IL 11th District) – East central Illinois: Former Illinois State Senator; served on Agriculture and Conservation Committee.

The full roster of Democrats and subcommittee assignments are expected to be announced next week. The committee ratio of Democrats to Republicans is expected to be 28-19. Republican committee assignments for Agriculture have not yet been announced.

Over on the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Farr (D-CA) will now be the vice chair of the Subcommittee on Agriculture Appropriations taking over from Rep. Hinchey (D-NY) who will still continue to serve on the subcommittee. Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN) will serve as a new member of the subcommittee and Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) will no longer serve on the subcommittee. Former House Agriculture Committee member John Salazar (D-CO) also won a seat on Appropriations, but will not be on the Agriculture Subcommittee. The House Republicans have not yet officially named committee assignments.

Over in the Senate, if Al Franken in fact becomes the next Senator from Minnesota, the expected ratio on the Senate Agriculture Committee will be 12 Democrats to 9 Republicans. With Sen. Ken Salazar leaving to become Secretary of the Interior, that will open up two seats for new Democratic members of the Committee. On the Republican side, if new Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) gets on the Committee, it would mean one current GOP member of the Committee would have to step down.


Confirmation Hearings: The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold its confirmation hearing for Tom Vilsack, President-elect Obama’s nominee for USDA Secretary, on Wednesday starting at 10 AM. Also on Wednesday, starting at 10:30, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold the confirmation hearing for Lisa Jackson to be EPA Administrator and Nancy Sutley to be Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Many other committees will also be holding confirmation hearings, with the expectation that many of the designees will be voted on by the full Senate before the week is over.

Conservation Rules on Tap: Many but not all of the delayed rules to implement 2008 Farm Bill changes to conservation programs now appear likely to be released next week. We expect to see the rule to implement changes to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) on Tuesday, to be followed by new rules for Technical Service Providers, Regional Equity, and Healthy Forests Reserve and a Request for Proposals for the new Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (a project-based subset of EQIP). Also possibly on tap will be rules for the Wetlands Reserve Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, and Farmland Protection Program, though some of those may fall to after January 21 when the new Administration is in place.

Not likely to be finished before the change in Administration are the rules for the Conservation Reserve Program and Grassland Reserve Program, which would then join the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative as rulemakings that will appear under the new Administration’s watch.

NSAC’s Conservation, Energy, and Environment Committee will be studying the new proposals carefully, and future editions of the Weekly Update will inform readers about key points and alert members to opportunities for submitting public comment on the interim rules for these programs.

Final COOL Rule Coming Too: On Thursday, outgoing USDA Secretary Ed Schafer announced his intention to see the final rule for mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is issued prior to the end of this Administration. The new rule will allow for a six-month transition period before compliance is enforced. The National Farmers Union had been advocating for USDA to wait on the final rule until the new Administration takes office, but that now appears unlikely.


More COOL News: Here is a story we only just caught up to. Evidently sometime in December, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service sent notice to the congressional Appropriations Committees of their intent to transfer $3.18 million out of the farm bill’s Specialty Crop Block Grant budget of $49 million for FY 2009 to help pay for implementation of Country of Origin Labeling, including a retailer survey, training programs for state employees, audit system development, and outreach activities. We suspect the last word has perhaps not been spoken yet on this maneuver.

Heads Up on Community Food Projects (CFP) Grants: This week the Community Food Security Coalition provided an update on the FY 2009 grant cycle for the Community Food Projects (CFP) Competitive Grants Program. The request for applications (RFA) is expected to be released around mid to late February this year, with applications due 60 days later. Contact CFP National Program Leader Liz Tuckermanty at etuckermanty@csrees.usda.gov to be added to the CFP email list.

A Letter of Intent is not required this year, so the application process will start with a full proposal. The FY2008 RFA is still available and can be used for planning an FY 2009 proposal. Electronic submission of proposals will be required. The registration process for electronic submission can take up to two months, so applicants who are not already registered should start the process as soon as possible at www.grants.gov.

The Community Food Security Coalition will continue to provide free written guidance and one-on-one technical assistance to CFP applicants this year. More information about CFP grants and assistance available can be found on the CFSC website.


Court Overturns Pesticide Exemption from Clean Water Permitting: On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a decision vacating an EPA rule exempting pesticides applied in or over water from the need to obtain a Clean Water Act permit (National Cotton Council of America v. EPA). In 2006, EPA had amended its rules to exempt pesticides sprayed in water or in trees or buffer areas near water from National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting. The agency contended that while the pesticides themselves were pollutants discharged from a point source (and hence subject to NPDES) the residues from those pesticides should in fact be considered nonpoint sources and hence exempt from NPDES. The court maintained this was not a reasonable interpretation of the Clean Water Act and it ridiculed EPA for asserting that the law is vague about whether pesticides are pollutants. In earlier court decisions, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in 2001 that an herbicide applicator was required to obtain a NPDES permit, while a Second Circuit panel ruled in 2002 that EPA should articulate whether NPDES permits are required if the application of pesticide complied with the requirement of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The NPDES permit process allows for citizen input and requires the agency to monitor and evaluate the cumulative impact of pesticide residues on aquatic organisms.


EWG Criticizes Ethanol Subsidies: On Thursday the Environmental Working Group issued a report detailing data from the federal Energy Information Administration highlighting the mismatch between corn ethanol subsidies versus other renewable energy sources. The federal data shows that corn ethanol accounts for three-quarters of federal tax benefits and two-thirds of direct federal subsidies allotted for all renewable energy sources in FY 2007. According to EWG Vice President Craig Cox, “it defies common sense to continue to lavish billions of tax dollars on corn-based ethanol, a fuel that has failed to fulfill its promises at every turn. Corn-based ethanol production, spurred by federal subsidies and mandates, is polluting our nation’s water, eroding our soil and plowing up precious wildlife habitat — and worst of all is likely contributing to global warming.”

Categories: General Interest

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