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EPA, Army propose two-year delay of WOTUS

Farm Futures | Posted on December 4, 2017

The U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of the Army are proposing to delay the effective date of the Waters of the U.S. rule by two years. The 2015 rule, which redefined the scope of where the Clean Water Act applies, had an effective date of Aug. 28, 2015. Implementation of the 2015 rule is on hold as a result of the Sixth Circuit’s nationwide stay of the rule, but that stay may be affected by a pending Supreme Court case. The 2015 rule is also stayed in 13 states due to a North Dakota district court ruling. EPA and the Army are taking this action to provide certainty and consistency to the regulated community.

EPA leaves biodiesel alone, raises cellulosic volume

DTN | Posted on December 2, 2017

Despite a major push from the Midwest to bolster Renewable Fuel Standard volumes for biomass-based diesel and cellulosic ethanol, in the end, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency left its final numbers released on Thursday virtually untouched from the original proposal. Though the biodiesel industry pressed President Donald Trump's administration for higher biomass-based diesel volumes above the proposed 2.1 billion gallons for 2019, the EPA left that number unchanged. The agency originally proposed a cut, while the industry wanted the number set at 2.5 billion gallons.The EPA's final biomass-based diesel numbers came as a huge disappointment to an industry that maintains it has the capacity to produce 2.6 billion gallons. Corn ethanol blending requirements were set at 15 billion gallons for 2018, with overall biofuel blending obligations slightly higher overall, based on the final RFS volumes announced. Fifteen billion gallons of corn ethanol amounts to about 5.4 billion bushels of corn demand supported by the RFS.The overall total Renewable Volume Obligation, or RVO, for 2018 was set at 19.29 billion gallons. That represents a slight bump from the original proposal of 19.28 billion gallons. The agency had considered cutting the number to 19.24 billion gallons. The bump comes from a slight increase in the advanced biofuels volumes.

Letter: Stop using farmers like me to sell flawed tax reform bill

Ag Week | Posted on December 2, 2017

Whether Republican or Democrat, most of us agree that tax reform and simplification is necessary. However, as is often the case, those supporting a piece of legislation overstate their talking points. As a farmer, I felt that I had to respond to those politicians who use farmers like me as the reason why the estate tax should be eliminated. The fact of the matter is the tax affects very few family farmers and ranchers in North Dakota, or in any state for that matter.Listening to the political talking points used to sell the latest House of Representatives tax reform bill, including those from Rep. Kevin Cramer, the estate tax is a tremendous burden on the average family farmer or rancher — but that's just not the case.Given the exemptions of nearly $5.5 million per person and almost $11 million for a couple, the vast majority of estates are not affected by the so called "death tax." Last year, according to the IRS, fewer than 10 estates in North Dakota were required to pay the tax — any family farm or small business worth less than that is exempt. Looking through the smoke and mirrors, we can see that the tax bill Cramer helped the House pass is detrimental to middle-class North Dakotans, including farmers. It gives massive handouts to the wealthier Americans, with few benefits for workers and retirees.

WOTUS Block included in appropriations bill

National Stone Sand & Gravel Association | Posted on December 2, 2017

A bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 16 would block the implementation of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule as it funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at $32 billion. The 2017 Interior and Environment bill would cut $125 million from current fiscal 2016 levels and is $1.1 billion less than the White House sought. The House Appropriations committee also marked up its Interior and Environment bill that includes a rider against WOTUS. The House bill is funded at $32.1 billion and would cut $64 million from current spending levels, including a $164 million cut to EPA.

FDA reaches out to Ag Commissioners on Food Safety

FDA | Posted on December 1, 2017

FDA's Scott Gottlieb wrote to the state Ag Commissioners reinforcing the agency’s commitment to work in partnership with the states to effectively implement FSMA.  Issues that are still being addressed include terminal markets, dispute resolution, on farm visits and agriculture water.

Removing and Replacing Production Deduction Risks Benefits for Farmer Cooperative

DTN | Posted on November 30, 2017

 The head of the National Council of Farmer Cooperative is concerned about how tax law will treat a 17.4% tax deduction that could pass from cooperatives through to farmers but leave farmer cooperatives without the same financial benefit they now receive from the Section 199 Domestic Production Activities Deduction. Senate Republicans worked Tuesday to ensure passage of a $1.41 trillion tax-cut bill by seeking changes that would shore up the benefits to small businesses. Amid denunciations from Democrats and a small but vocal protest breaking out during the business meeting, the Senate Budget Committee voted along party lines early Tuesday afternoon in Washington to merge some provisions from different committees in the tax bill and advance the bill to the Senate floor.Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters Tuesday that a few key Republicans had indicated support for the tax bill, leading to just a few Republican senators who viewed the tax benefits for small businesses as not as attractive in the Senate bill compared to the tax cuts for larger corporations."That's the stumbling block we have to deal with right now," Grassley said. He added, "They know the necessity of getting a bill passed, and I don't know what it is going to take to satisfy them, but something's got to be done," Grassley said.

Retired Miner With Black Lung Begs EPA To Save Power Plant Rules: ‘We’re Literally Dying’

Huffington Post | Posted on November 30, 2017

In 2014, Stanley Sturgill traveled 1,300 miles from his home in Harlan County, Kentucky, to Denver, where the Environmental Protection Agency held one of four public hearings and 11 listening sessions on new rules to limit pollution from power plants. The retired coal miner ― diagnosed with black lung and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease from his years toiling underground ― begged the agency for help: “We’re dying, literally dying for you to help us.”On Tuesday, Sturgill, 72, drove three hours to Charleston, West Virginia, for the EPA’s only public hearing on the Trump administration’s proposal to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. Hunched in front of a microphone at a rounded wooden table in the Senate Judiciary Committee Room of the West Virginia Legislature, he made his plea once again: “We’re still dying ― we’re still literally dying ― for you to help us.”“Just how many people must pay the supreme price of death for a few rich, greedy people to bank a few dollars?” Sturgill said. He noted how long he and his wife, Sharon, had trekked just to speak for a few minutes. “We may be old, but we still love living.”His testimony, about 90 minutes into the 9-to-5 hearing, punctuated a morning packed with fawning praise for President Donald Trump, back-patting Republican lawmakers, and exhausted public health advocates who’ve spent years repeating the same statistics on climate change and asthma.“Do I really think that this administration cares what this old, worn-out coal miner has to say? Well, I don’t know. I really doubt it. But I had to be here,” Sturgill said, “as long as I can draw breath.” The EPA estimates the social cost of carbon ― climate-change related damages to property, human health, economic growth and agriculture ― to be between $11 and $105 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution. But the real cost could be 129 times higher, according to a study released this month from Purdue University, which found that existing models relied on decades-old agricultural data.

USDA Publishes School Meals Rule, Expands Options, Eases Challenges

USDA | Posted on November 30, 2017

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today provided local food service professionals the flexibility they need to serve wholesome, nutritious, and tasty meals in schools across the nation. The new School Meal Flexibility Rule, published today, makes targeted changes to standards for meals provided under USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, and asks customers to share their thoughts on those changes with the Department.The interim final rule published today gives schools the option to serve low-fat (1 percent) flavored milk. Currently, schools are permitted to serve low-fat and non-fat unflavored milk as well as non-fat flavored milk. The rule also would provide this milk flexibility to the Special Milk Program and Child and Adult Care Food Program operators serving children ages 6 and older. States will also be allowed to grant exemptions to schools experiencing hardship in obtaining whole grain-rich products acceptable to students during School Year (SY) 2018-2019.Schools and industry also need more time to reduce sodium levels in school meals, Perdue said. So instead of further restricting sodium levels for SY 2018-2019, schools that meet the current – “Target 1” – limit will be considered compliant with USDA’s sodium requirements. Perdue again lauded the efforts of school food professionals in serving healthful, appealing meals and underscored USDA’s commitment to helping them overcome remaining challenges they face in meeting the nutrition standards.

Tax Legislation and the Specter of Sequestration on the Farm Bill

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on November 29, 2017

A recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has raised concerns about the potential impact the Congressional tax bills could have on farm programs and the farm bill. In short, the concern raised is that if the tax bills increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years, existing statutory requirements for sequestration and Pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) would require automatic reductions to offset the deficit increases. The following reviews the issue from the perspective of the potential implications for farm programs, crop insurance, conservation and the upcoming farm bill debate. Sequestration is triggered automatically. OMB's role is to calculate and implement it, as well as to issue reports to Congress. Recent sequestration reports under the 2011 BCA provide examples but not the full scope of the potential concern for the farm bill.The next farm bill will be written using the 10-year baseline estimated by CBO in 2018. Therefore, the concern is that sequestration would eliminate the entire baseline for commodity programs, as well as a substantial portion of the baseline for conservation programs.

Turkey farmers facing squeeze after Trump kills agriculture rules

Politico | Posted on November 28, 2017

Ike Horst raises 22,000 turkeys a year on his farm in the rolling hills of south-central Pennsylvania, selling them to a processing company that was providing him with enough of a nest egg that he hoped he could sell the farm and retire. But a Trump administration decision to block proposed agriculture regulations may blow up those plans, preserving the multibillion-dollar meat industry’s power over the smaller turkey farmers whose birds will grace the tables in millions of American homes this Thanksgiving. Horst is one of the independent businessmen caught up in the Trump administration’s governmentwide deregulation frenzy.Obama-era rules that had yet to take effect would have given smaller farmers more power to set the terms of their deals with massive meat companies, empowering the growers to sue and better define abusive practices by processors and distributors under federal law. Trump’s Agriculture Department killed two of the proposed rules, one of which would have taken effect in October.Major agribusinesses like Cargill and Butterball fought the rules, saying they would lead to endless litigation between farmers and global food companies.Trump’s deregulatory strike — lauded by big business — has consequences, even for the mom-and-pop turkey farmers who raise free-range, antibiotic-free turkeys that have seen increasing demand as Americans become more socially conscious about the production of their foods.Horst is afraid a planned sale of his farm will fall through because Plainville Farms, a major organic food producer and the primary customer for his turkeys, is requiring the buyer to install upgrades including fans, tunnel ventilation and a stationary generator if it wants to continue supplying to the company.