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Federal News

EPA staffers get talking points playing down human role in climate change

The Washington Post | Posted on March 29, 2018

Environmental Protection Agency staffers received a list of “talking points” this week instructing them to underscore the uncertainties about how human activity contributes to climate change. A career employee in the department’s Office of Public Affairs distributed the eight talking points to regional staffers. The list offered suggestions on ways to talk with local communities and Native American tribes about how to adapt to extreme weather, rising seas and other environmental challenges.Employees crafted the email, first disclosed Wednesday by HuffPost, on the basis of controversial — and scientifically unsound — statements that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has made about the current state of climate research.“Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner,” reads one of the talking points. “The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”Another states that while there has been “extensive” research and numerous reports on climate change, “clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.”

How a food stamp fight could kill the farm bill

Politico | Posted on March 28, 2018

The Trump administration and House Republicans are pushing a crackdown on food stamps, but their effort to shrink a safety net program that boomed during the Obama era might come at a great cost — derailing a massive farm bill that’s heavily supported in Trump country. Talks between House Democrats and Republicans on the farm bill broke down two weeks ago over proposed changes to the nutrition program that Democrats say would cut off an estimated 1 million participants — a bad sign for the historically bipartisan legislation. The details of the SNAP proposal remain very much under wraps, but Democratic staff members told reporters Tuesday that the bill would impose stricter work requirements on about 3 million to 5 million of the 42 million Americans who rely on the program — a number that would mostly target able-bodied adults without children, as well as millions of school-age parents who are currently exempt in many states. There are already work requirements in place for SNAP, but the vast majority of recipients are exempt because they are children, elderly or disabled.Able-bodied adults without children or other dependents are already required to participate in a training program for 20 hours per week or to work to keep their SNAP benefits longer than three months over a three-year period. However, states largely exempted this population from those time limits during the Great Recession. The waivers have been slowly lapsing as the economy recovered. But about 36 percent of the U.S. population lives in an area where that rule is still waived, and the House bill is expected to rein in that flexibility.

Secretary Perdue Issues USDA Statement on Plant Breeding Innovation

USDA | Posted on March 28, 2018

 U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today issued a statement providing clarification on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) oversight of plants produced through innovative new breeding techniques which include techniques called genome editing. Under its biotechnology regulations, USDA does not regulate or have any plans to regulate plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques as long as they are not plant pests or developed using plant pests. This includes a set of new techniques that are increasingly being used by plant breeders to produce new plant varieties that are indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods. The newest of these methods, such as genome editing, expand traditional plant breeding tools because they can introduce new plant traits more quickly and precisely, potentially saving years or even decades in bringing needed new varieties to farmers.

2020 census to add question on citizenship status

NBC News | Posted on March 28, 2018

State attorneys general warned such a question could lower immigrants' voting and cause a population undercount.

FDA Investigates Pattern of Contamination in Certain Raw Pet Foods

FDA | Posted on March 28, 2018

The FDA has detected Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O128 and Salmonella in samples of raw pet foods manufactured by Arrow Reliance Inc. The samples were collected by the FDA to determine whether the firm had addressed an ongoing pattern of pathogenic contamination in Darwin’s and ZooLogics raw pet foods.The firm has recalled the affected products.

China urges WTO members: Put U.S. tariff 'beast back in the cage'

Reuters | Posted on March 28, 2018

China called on World Trade Organization members to unite to prevent the United States “wrecking” the WTO, and it urged them to oppose U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs targeting China’s alleged theft of intellectual property.

How the Omnibus Spending Bill Impacts Agriculture

Texas Agriculture Law Blog | Posted on March 28, 2018

When Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act bill back in December, there were provisions giving additional advantages in form of deductions to producers who sold grain to cooperatives that did not exist for farmers selling to independent buyers.  When this was discovered, numerous Congressmen said this was an inadvertent error that would be remedied.  The spending bill corrected this “grain glitch”  in Division T, Section 101, which essentially does away with the deduction advantaged given to coops under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Congress passed the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (“FARM”) Act.  This provision states that the reporting requirements of CERCLA do not apply to the application, handling, or storage of a FIFRA registered pesticide by an agricultural producer or to air emissions from animal waste at a farm. The spending bill includes language in Division L, Section 132 prohibiting funding being used by DOT for enforcing the FMCSA regulations related to electronic logging devices for livestock and insect haulers through September 30, 2018.  The House included an instruction in their Report to the FDA to develop a standard of identity for dairy products and to issue guidance to the industry on how to implement this standard.  The bill includes language that exempts farmers and ranchers from the System for Award Management “SAM” and Data Universal Numbering System “DUNS” reporting requirements when enrolling in conservation programs with USDA.  

Participating insurance companies annual rate of return on crop insurance

Daily Yonder | Posted on March 28, 2018

A Minnesota farm group says that the federal crop insurance, the nation’s largest “safety net” program for farmers, is a profit bonanza for private insurance companies. Farmers, taxpayers and rural environmental quality are paying the price. “I appreciate crop insurance. It does make a risky business less risky,” said Randy Krzmarzick, a crop farmer from Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. “But crop insurance is not subject to any limits. The largest recipients have received over a million dollars in subsidies. This comes at a time when a lot of good programs are being slashed in Washington.” Their research, based on public data from the Government Accounting Office, documents that crop insurance company profits have risen to a 35 percent return-on-investment in the past few years. “Comparing those profits with the returns for farmers, which has been negative for a number of years now, that’s a big concern,” said Tom Nussmeier, a farmer from La Sueur, Minnesota.

Budgetary Restraints Force CDC to Downsize International Programs

Egg-News | Posted on March 26, 2018

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been forced to reduce international epidemic detection and prevention programs. For many decades, the CDC has maintained a presence in as many as 49 nations to work with local health officials and to monitor outbreaks of disease. According to Dr. Rebecca Martin, Director of the CDC Center for Global Health, the agency will have to scale back the Global Health Security portfolio to focus efforts based on existing resources. Addressing her colleagues in an internal CDC E-mail, Dr. Martin noted “Faced with this anticipated fiscal reality, we have to make some very difficult decisions.” The wind-down will commence in October 2019 unless additional funding is provided. The CDC was a recipient of a five-year supplemental grant following the Ebola outbreak in 2014.Short changing the CDC is unjustified. It is far better to recognize and address a serious epidemic in the nation of origin and interdict spread before it extends to the Homeland. Stationing and rotating CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers and research workers in countries with the likelihood of emerging serious diseases with epidemic or even pandemic potential provides experience which may be required to control naturally-occurring diseases or bioterrorism in the U.S.

Congressional Spending Bill Allocates $600 Million in New Rural Broadband Funding

telecompetitor | Posted on March 26, 2018

New rural broadband funding is included in the $1.3 trillion congressional omnibus bill to fund the government this year. The bill calls for an additional $600 million to be distributed through the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). The funding authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to create a pilot program within RUS that distributes the new funding in the form of grants and loans. There are details to be worked out, but the authorization calls for “expedited” delivery of the program.A few conditions were mandated by the funding bill. They include:Ninety percent of the households served by any project funded through this program must be unserved or underserved and can’t currently have 10/1 Mbps broadband access. Any entity receiving funds from the program is prohibited from overbuilding an existing RUS borrower. No more than 4% of funds received through the program can be used towards administrative costs