NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – June 29-July 2, 2009

July 6, 2009


Clean Water Network MS River Basin Caucus and NSAC State Technical Committee Workshop: On Monday afternoon July 20, NSAC is co-hosting a NRCS State Technical Committee Workshop with the Izaak Walton League of America in Minneapolis, MN. The Workshop will provide information on how farmers, ranchers, and grassroots organizations can participate in State Technical Committees and Local Working Groups — the advisory committees to NRCS State Conservationists that provide critical recommendations and guidance on how Farm Bill conservation programs are rolled out at the state level.

The Workshop will include presentations on the 2008 Farm Bill conservation programs and how they can be used to improve water quality and protect wetlands and other aquatic habitats in the Mississippi River Basin. There will be an additional Tuesday morning session before the two-day Mississippi Regional Caucus gets underway that will allow additional people coming to the Caucus to learn about the NRCS State Technical Committees and Local Working Groups and meet Workshop participants who are staying for the Caucus.

For additional information on the NSAC State Technical Committee Workshop, contact Martha Noble mnoble@sustainableagriculture.net. For information about the Clean Water Network Upper Mississippi Regional Caucus, go to the Caucus Registration website.


Ag Appropriations in House and Senate: In a rare double header, the House agricultural appropriations bill for FY 2010 will be going to Rules Committee on Tuesday, July 7 and then to the floor later in the week, the same day (and possibly the same hour) as the full Senate Appropriations Committee will be marking up its version of the bill. Look for a short special report on the Senate bill next Wednesday, and a full report in next week’s regular edition. Also, by coincidence, NSAC is hosting a farmer fly-in next week on budget and appropriations issues, which we will also report in next week’s edition.

Senate Committee starts in on Climate Bill: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will launch its effort to pass climate change legislation by holding a hearing on Tuesday, July 7. Testifying will be three Administration officials: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Chairwoman Barbara Boxer hopes to markup a bill just before the Senate leaves on its annual August recess. She would therefore introduce the bill to be marked up sometime earlier in July.

Majority Leader Reid intends to debate the package on the floor later in the fall, combining it with energy legislation coming out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Reid has given four other committees, including Agriculture, until September 18 to produce any additions to the package within their respective jurisdictions.

The NSAC Policy Council has decided to make work on portions of the agriculture section a priority for this summer and fall.


First Batch of State RD and FSA Directors Named: On Thursday, July 1, USDA announced the first group of White House selected State Rural Development Directors and State Farm Service Agency Directors. The highly sought after political appointments are made at the start of every new Administration. We are told there will be another batch coming out next week.

Rural Development Directors were named for the following eighteen states: AK, CO, HI, ID, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, MS, MT, NE, NY, OK, PA, TX, VA, and WI. Paragraph length bios of the new directors for most of these states can be viewed here and for CO, ID, and KS can be viewed here.

FSA Directors were named for the following twenty-one states: AK, CO, DE, HI, ID, IL, IN, KS MA, MI, MN, MS, MT, NE, NY, OK, PA, TX, VA, WA, WI. The bios for these appointees can be viewed here and for CO, ID, and KS here.

Vilsack Leads Obama’s “Rural Tour”: On Wednesday, July 1, Vice President Biden and USDA Secretary Vilsack kicked off a national tour to discuss how the Obama Administration can better serve rural communities. Over the next three months, Vilsack and other top Cabinet officials will hold public forums in Wisconsin, Virginia, Louisiana, Alaska, Ohio, North Carolina, Nebraska, and New Mexico. The opening discussion, held in Wattsburg, PA, centered on the issue of rural broadband internet access. Other topics to be discussed on the tour include economic development, healthcare, green jobs, climate change, education, and production agriculture. To read about the tour and view the schedule, click here.

Several journalists have pointed out that several of the scheduled stops target politically competitive districts at the congressional and presidential level.

Unclear at this point is whether this rural tour is in addition to or instead of the Rural Summit meeting that candidate Obama promised during the campaign would occur in Iowa at the outset of his first year in office.

USDA Issues Interim Final Rule for the Conservation Reserve Program: On Monday, June 29, USDA issued an interim final rule (IFR) for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) intended to implement the CRP provision in the 2008 Farm Bill. USDA will be taking comments on the IFR until August 28, 2009. The Federal Register announcement with instructions on submitting comments is posted here.

Among the changes that the IFR makes to CRP are: an expansion of the Farmable Wetlands Program to include open, earthen, freshwater fish production systems and constructed wetlands developed to provide nitrogen removal in row-crop drainage areas; a requirement that landowners have a plan for CRP management activities; and application of the 2008 Farm Bill payment limitation and adjusted gross income requirements for conservation programs.

Sadly missing from the IFR are the rules to implement the 2008 Farm Bill’s CRP transition option for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. We hope to be able to report soon that an IFR will be issued on that important provision within the next few months.

NRCS Reopens FRPP Comment Period: On Thursday, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) issued a correction to the Interim Final Rule for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) and reopened the comment period on the entire IFR, as amended, until August 3, 2009. NRCS is also asking for public comments on selected program implementation questions included in the notice. The Federal Register notice with instructions for submitting comments is posted on the web here.

The correction to the IFR clarifies that the right to enforce a conservation easement granted to the U.S. under the FRPP is a condition placed on the award of financial assistance under the FRPP and does not constitute an acquisition of real property by the U.S.


EPA Extends Comment Period on Revision of Renewable Fuel Standard: On Tuesday, June 30, EPA announced that it is extending the comment period on the revision of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by 60 days to September 25, 2009. The notice of the extension is posted with other information on the EPA’s RFS webpage.

Under the Energy Security and Independence Act of 2007, Congress directed EPA to evaluate the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of various renewable biofuels to ensure that the biofuels meet criteria for reduction of GHG emissions. If a biofuel does not meet the criteria, blenders cannot get a tax credit for blending it with gasoline or fossil fuel diesel. EPA’s proposed regulation for the revised RFS included GHGs from indirect international land use changes, which would knock corn ethanol and a fair amount of soy biodiesel out of eligibility for the tax credits. In the recently-passed House climate change bill, a provision was added to prohibit the use of indirect international land use changes in evaluating renewable biofuels.

In addition to giving the public more time to submit comments on the proposal for revising the RFS, the extension will also give the incoming EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, Regina McCarthy, more time to explore the issue. Last week, EPA announced that she and Margo Oge, Assistant Administrator for Transportation and Air Quality, have accepted an invitation from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to go to Iowa in early September and see the impact their agencies have on farmers and agriculture.


WTO & UNEP Report on Trade and Climate Change: Last Friday, June 26, the WTO and the United Nations Environment Program released a report, entitled Trade and Climate Change, that suggests trade restraints in the form of import taxes may be necessary to help stop climate change. More generally, the view put forward was that border taxes on goods from countries that fail to meet environmental standards may be permitted as exceptions to global free trade rules, provided they are not really protectionist measures in disguise.

Ironically, the report was issued just days before President Obama issued a statement opposed to import tax provisions, aimed at countries that do not impose greenhouse gas restrictions, contained in the House-passed climate change bill.

The report also considers energy efficiency laws and public subsidies for greening industry, concluding that if carefully crafted to combat climate change rather than protect domestic industries, they too could be consistent with international trade rules.


GE Crop Trend Data: On Friday, July 2, USDA’s Economic Research Service released a data product that summarizes the extent of adoption of GE varieties of corn, beans, and cotton for the period from 2000-2009.

Categories: General Interest

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