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Veterans send letter Trump urging rule for ethanol and RFS in his energy plan

Biofuels Digest | Posted on March 22, 2017

more than 120 military veterans working and investing in the ethanol industry sent a letter to President Trump last week, urging him to include a prominent role for ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in his “America First Energy Plan.”  According to the letter, “many of us have witnessed firsthand the dangers of our reliance on oil imports from hostile and unstable parts of the world. We share your belief that the United States can and must do more to insulate itself from the negative impacts associated with oil import dependence and OPEC manipulation. Your continued commitment to the Renewable Fuel Standard and pledge to ‘end restrictions that keep higher blends of ethanol from being sold’ are among the strategies that will help free our economy from the influence of OPEC oil ministers once and for all.”  The veterans signing the letter work in 18 different states—from California and Oregon to Ohio and Wisconsin—and represent 41 businesses or organizations directly involved in the U.S. ethanol industry. They served in the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy.

OSHA notices disappear as Labor Dept. revamps under Trump

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on March 21, 2017

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has yet to issue any public notices of fines for violations so far this year, although officials told The New York Times that enforcement actions are still under way.  OSHA has not posted any news releases covering rule enforcement fines on its website, a major shift from activity under the Obama administration, when the agency issued an average of about 460 news releases per year, the paper reported. Industry associations reportedly are unhappy about Obama-era record-keeping rules ordering companies that were competing for federal contracts to disclose accusations of standard labor violations regarding safety and fair-pay issues that also were publicized by OSHA.

White House budget would cut EPA by 31%, Labor Dept. by 21%

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on March 21, 2017

The White House 2018 budget requests $5.7 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, a savings of $2.6 billion, or 31 percent, from the 2017 annualized continuing resolution (CR) level. The President’s 2018 Budget:  Discontinues funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts —saving more than $100 million for the American taxpayer compared to 2017 annualized CR levels. Reins in Superfund administrative costs and emphasizes efficiency efforts by funding the Hazardous Substance Superfund Account at $762 million, $330 million below the 2017 annualized CR level. The agency would prioritize the use of existing settlement funds to clean up hazardous waste sites and look for ways to remove some of the barriers that have delayed the program’s ability to return sites to the community. The White House 2018 Budget requests $9.6 billion for the Department of Labor, a $2.5 billion or 21 percent decrease from the 2017 annualized continuing resolution (CR) level. The President’s 2018 Budget:• Eliminates the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s training grants, yielding savings of almost $11 million from the 2017 annualized CR level.• Expands Reemployment and Eligibility Assessments, an evidence-based activity that saves an average of $536 per claimant in unemployment insurance benefit costs by reducing improper payments and getting claimants back to work more quickly and at higher wages. Reduces funding for job training grants. As part of this, eliminates the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), for a savings of $434 million from the 2017 annualized CR level. The White House said SCSEP is ineffective in meeting its purpose of transitioning low-income unemployed seniors into unsubsidized jobs. As many as one-third of participants fail to complete the program and of those who do, only half successfully transition to unsubsidized employment.

Senators seek to protect U.S. agriculture from foreign acquisitions

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on March 19, 2017

U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) have introduced new bipartisan legislation to give top U.S. agriculture and food officials permanent representation on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.  The “Food Security is National Security Act of 2017” also would include new agriculture and food-related criteria for CFIUS to consider when reviewing transactions that could result in control of a U.S. business by a foreign company.

Environmental Groups Ask EPA to End Ag Stormwater Exemption

DTN | Posted on March 19, 2017

Environmental groups are asking the Scott Pruitt-led U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do something not even the previous pro-regulation administration would do -- tighten Clean Water Act regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations.  A petition filed with EPA by Food and Water Watch and 34 other environmental groups, essentially is a wish list that includes regulating all CAFOs as pollution point sources, including the spreading of manure in fields, runoff from CAFO production areas, and not allowing CAFOs to claim the CWA agriculture exemption for stormwater discharges.The groups said in the petition EPA's inaction has led to a patchwork of state laws, many of which have been ineffective in reducing water pollution.In the petition, the groups ask for the agency to promulgate new CAFO rules.

The cost of tough immigration rules

Wall Street Journal | Posted on March 16, 2017

The first impact of President Donald Trump’s changes to U.S. immigration policy will fall on businesses that grow, process or sell food. Recent history shows that labor shortages could drive up prices and labor costs, and hurt profits.  Little attention is being paid to the threat to food prices from a drop in immigrant labor. What is known so far is generally anecdotal and regional. But the impact of a nationwide hit to the supply of workers could be large. Food price increases, which have been low, would boost already accelerating inflation. People spooked by the rules are staying home, whether they live in the U.S. or abroad. The number of people apprehended illegally crossing the border from Mexico fell sharply last month from January, and there are reports of undocumented immigrants reluctant to go to work for fear of getting caught. As of 2014, there were 8 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. labor force, according to Pew Research Center estimates. Construction firms, restaurants and hotels hire many of those workers. But farms and other food-producers are where they matter most. Some 17% of agricultural workers are unauthorized immigrants, according to Pew. For a hint of what’s to come, an immigration law put into place by Georgia in mid-2011 is instructive. The law encouraged police to question people about their immigration status and meted out harsher punishments to businesses that hired undocumented workers. Farms—particularly those that grew crops picked and sorted by hand—were hit hard. Many migrant work crews simply bypassed the state, says Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association executive director George Hall. By acreage, 80% of fruit and vegetable farmers responding to a University of Georgia survey experienced labor shortages.  Georgia’s law had little apparent effect on overall prices, because farms elsewhere were able to fill the gap. But during harvesting season, prices for some crops where the state is a big player were notably higher than a year earlier. Gary Paulk, a farmer in Wray, Ga., says his blackberries, a labor intensive crop, fetched about 20% more than a year earlier.


Trump wants 21 percent USDA budget cut; food, rural water hit

Reuters | Posted on March 16, 2017

Agriculture leaders including lawmakers from President Donald Trump's Republican Party criticized his planned 21 percent cut to discretionary spending at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), saying it could take a toll on the rural communities that helped elect him last November.  Trump has proposed slashing the USDA's discretionary budget by $4.7 billion to $17.9 billion by halting funding for rural clean water initiatives and rural business services, reducing some USDA statistical services and cutting county-level staff. The president has already vowed to alter trade deals that have largely boosted farm incomes and targeted health care policies that have particularly benefited the rural poor. "America's farmers and ranchers are struggling, and we need to be extremely careful not to exacerbate these conditions," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway. Farm incomes are down 50 percent from four years ago, he added.  opposition is already building in Congress.

Ebola vaccine for great apes shows promise, but ethical hurdles may block further research

Science | Posted on March 16, 2017

Swallowing just a few drops of a new vaccine could protect against the deadly Ebola virus. The new immunization is not meant for humans, but chimpanzees and gorillas, for which Ebola is a devastating disease as well. Yet the vaccine may never reach these great apes. Further tests are all but impossible because of new ethical rules, the researchers charge.  Ebola is best known as a killer of people, but the virus also causes epidemics in wildlife. A 2006 study estimated that an outbreak in 2002 and 2003 in the Republic of the Congo claimed the lives of 5000 gorillas, but others have said the impact of the disease is hard to measure. Still, Ebola is a real and possibly growing threat to great apes, says epidemiologist Fabian Leendertz of the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, who studies pathogens in nonhuman primates.   Walsh, who is currently investigating this issue with automated camera traps in the Republic of the Congo, admits that these are major problems. “There are Gambian pouched rats all over the forest, and the minute you put anything out, they eat it,” he says. “I have to find a way to get around that and that’s what I’m focusing on now.” But new U.S. rules on research with chimpanzees are another hurdle, Walsh says. Further improvements on the vaccine, for instance to prevent it from losing its activity in the tropical heat, would require another round of testing on captive animals. And that looks all but impossible at the moment, he says. Biomedical research on chimpanzees has been declining for years, and a new rule issued by the U.S. government in 2016 requires a permit under the Endangered Species Act. Although the rule still allows research on captive chimps if it benefits wild populations, the restrictions have made it too expensive to maintain chimpanzee groups for research, says Walsh, who cut his own vaccine study short when the rules took effect last September. Walsh has titled his paper “The Final (Oral Ebola) Vaccine Trial on Captive Chimpanzees?”

Trump budget plan cuts USDA food, rural water funding

Reuters | Posted on March 16, 2017

President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating an international food aid program, halting funding for clean water initiative in rural areas and reducing county-level staff for a 21 percent drop in discretionary spending at the Agriculture Department, according to a White House budget document. The proposal would save $498 million by eliminating a rural water and wastewater loan and grant program, which the White House proposal said was duplicative. The program helps fund clean water and sewer systems in communities with less than 10,000 people. Other USDA areas targeted for cuts to reach the White House's $17.9 billion discretionary spending budget include its statistical capabilities and staffing at its county-level service centers. The White House also said it would eliminate the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, which provides donations of U.S. agricultural commodities to food-deficit countries. The program, which had $182 million earmarked in the fiscal-year 2017 USDA budget, "lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity," the document said.

On immigration, Trump's budget calls for far more than a wall

USA Today | Posted on March 16, 2017

 President Trump’s first budget provides more than $4.5 billion in new spending to fight illegal immigration — not just by building a wall along the southern border but by adding more than 1,700 border officers, prosecutors and judges.  Beginning work on the wall comes with the biggest outlay — $2.6 billion — followed by $1.5 billion for expanded detention, transportation and removal of illegal immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security estimates the wall will cost $21 billion.  The largest staffing increases would be 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel and 500 new Border Patrol agents — all at a cost of $314 million. In executive orders issued five days after his inauguration, Trump called for adding 10,000 immigration officers and 5,000 border agents.  Other immigration-related additions in the budget proposal include:$80 million to hire 75 new immigration judges to handle removal proceedings.Hiring 60 additional border enforcement prosecutors and 40 deputy U.S. marshals to catch and transport criminal aliens.Hiring 20 new attorneys to obtain land needed to secure the southwest border and another 20 attorneys and staff to handle immigration litigation.$15 million to begin implementation of mandatory nationwide use of the E-verify Program, which allows businesses to determine the legal status of new workers.The budget also calls for spending $171 million to add short-term detention space to hold federal detainees, including criminal aliens, awaiting trial and sentencing.