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Eight states are fighting Trump’s attempt to declaw the Migratory Bird Treaty

The Washington Post | Posted on September 13, 2018

Eight state attorneys general filed a legal challenge Wednesday to the Trump administration's bid to dramatically weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a century-old law established to protect birds. The lawsuit, led by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, and supported by Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, California and New Mexico, is an effort to stop the Interior Department from fully implementing a directive to its law enforcement division to forgive mass bird kills, even when the animals are threatened or endangered.In accordance with a new interpretation of the act issued in April, the department informed its wildlife police that the slaughter “of birds resulting from an activity is not prohibited . . . when the underlying purpose of that activity is not to take birds.” For example, the guidance said, a person who destroys a structure such as a barn knowing that it is full of baby owls in nests is not liable for killing them. “All that is relevant is that the landowner undertook an action that did not have the killing of barn owls as its purpose,” the opinion said.An even broader interpretation by the administration held that the act would no longer apply even in a catastrophe such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that injured and killed up to a million birds. Interior would pursue penalties under the Natural Resources Damage Assessment program, which is not specific to birds, and ignore penalties that could be levied under the act.

How did the USDA determine trade damage estimate calculations?

USDA | Posted on September 13, 2018

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today released a detailed accounting of how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) calculated estimated damage from trade disruptions. USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist developed an estimate of gross trade damages for commodities with assessed retaliatory tariffs by Canada, China, the European Union, Mexico, and Turkey to set commodity payment rates and purchase levels in the trade mitigation package announced by USDA. USDA employed the same approach often used in adjudicating World Trade Organization trade dispute cases. MFP example 1: Sorghum Step 1: In 2017, China imported $956 million of sorghum from the United States. Step 2: With additional 25% tariff, China is estimated to import $642 million from the United States. Step 3: Estimated gross trade damage = $642 million - $956 million = -$314 million Initial MFP rate = $314 million/364 million bushels = $0.86/bu. MFP example 2: Corn Step 1: In 2017, China and EU combined imported $309 million of corn from the United States. Step 2: With additional 25% tariff from both countries, the combined imports from the United States is estimated to be $117 million. Step 3: Estimated gross trade damage = $117 million - $309 million = -$192 million Initial MFP rate = $192 million/14.6 billion bushels = $0.01/bu.

Food Safety Costs for Farms Vary Across Commodities Due to Differences in Farm Size

Amber Waves - USDA | Posted on September 13, 2018

An ERS study estimated farm-level costs to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act's Produce Rule by commodity, State, and farm size. Costs ranged from as little as 0.3 percent of annual produce sales for the largest farms and 6.8 percent for the smallest.

High-Poverty Schools Are More Likely To Adopt the Community Eligibility Provision of the USDA School Meal Programs

Amber Waves - USDA | Posted on September 13, 2018

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows eligible schools to offer USDA school meals to all students at no charge. During the 2016-17 school year, 47 percent of U.S. school districts eligible to use CEP used the provision in at least one school.

Local Labor Market Conditions Impact Participation in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Amber Waves - USDA | Posted on September 13, 2018

Analysis of administrative records from Oregon finds that able-bodied, working-age SNAP participants are more likely to leave the program when labor market conditions at the county or commuting area levels improve.

USDA Partners with Communities to Support Opioid Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Opportunities in Rural America

USDA | Posted on September 13, 2018

Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with rural communities in 22 states to support opportunities for opioid prevention, treatment and recovery. “With its impact on workforce, quality of life and the economic vitality of rural communities from Maine to California, the opioid epidemic is more than just a matter of public health – it is an issue of rural prosperity,” Hazlett said. “Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities in planning and building local responses to this monumental challenge.”USDA is investing $10.7 million in 85 projects in 22 states through the Community Facilities program. 

Market Facilitation Program: Impacts and Initial Analysis

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on September 13, 2018

USDA released details on aid it will provide to farmers in response to trade disputes, resulting in tariffs instituted by the U.S. and retaliatory tariffs from trading partners, especially China. This article focuses on the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) which will have the largest impact on incomes of Midwest grain farms.   The MFP provides cash payments to farmers for a subset of commodity crops, including corn and soybeans that are commonly grown in the Midwest.  Payments are to be made using a specific rate per bushel on 2018 actual production.  In Illinois, average payments are estimated at $53 per acre for soybeans, $1 per acre for corn, and $5 per acre for wheat.  MFP payments will significantly increase 2018 net farm incomes.  Payment rates for corn are low relative to those for other crops.

USDA sued for allegedly blocking info on experiments that killed 3,000 cats

The Hill | Posted on September 13, 2018

The White Coat Waste Project, a right-leaning advocacy group in Virginia, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this week against the USDA in an attempt to gain information about government experiments that involved euthanizing thousands of cats. The lawsuit alleges that the USDA stopped the group's attempt to obtain information about its research via a Freedom of Information Act request. The group had asked for veterinary records for all “cats and kittens” experimented on at a federal facility in Beltsville, Md. The group released documents earlier this year in which the USDA said about 100 cats are killed annually at the Maryland facility. The cats are reportedly killed after being infected with a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis.

USDA decision ends request to halt mineral leases

Business North | Posted on September 11, 2018

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has re-opened the door to mineral exploration in the Rainy River Watershed, allowing companies to lease minerals in the Superior National Forest. USDA’s decision received a warm welcome from mining supporters, who have worried the obstacle would stifle Iron Range economic growth. Environmentalists said it will harm the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.“Today’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the right decision for Minnesota’s future and validates the existing environmental review process – which states the proper time to evaluate potential impacts of mining projects is after they have been proposed,” Jobs for Minnesotans said in a news release.  “This mineral withdrawal would have protected the Rainy River watershed and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the threat of sulfide mining. Along with impacting the hundreds of thousands of individuals who visit the Boundary Waters each year, this decision will hurt the thousands of people whose livelihoods and economic wellbeing has been built on a thriving outdoor recreation economy in the region,” countered Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

The E.P.A.’s Review of Mercury Rules Could Remake Its Methods for Valuing Human Life and Health

The New York Times | Posted on September 11, 2018

When writing environmental rules, one of the most important calculations involves weighing the financial costs against any gains in human life and health. The formulas are complex, but the bottom line is that reducing the emphasis on health makes it tougher to justify a rule. Last week the Trump administration took a crucial step toward de-emphasizing the life and health benefits in this calculus when the Environmental Protection Agency said it would rethink a major regulation that restricts mercury emissions by coal-burning power plants.The 2011 mercury rule — based on decades of research showing that mercury damages the brain, lungs and fetal health — is among the costliest but most effective clean-air policies put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency. Utilities estimate they have spent $18 billion installing clean-air technology, and mercury pollution has fallen by nearly 70 percent.Modifying the rule could have an impact far beyond any immediate concerns about the release of toxic mercury into the air and water. In fact, the re-evaluation fits into a far-reaching administration strategy to loosen environmental rules affecting countless other industries for years to come by adjusting the factors used to judge the benefits to human health that the rule has brought