Keith Good: USDA ‘Climate Hubs’ to Assess, Plan for Climate Change


    AP writer Josh Lederman reported yesterday that, “Climate change is already hurting American farmers and rural residents, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday, warning that the U.S. would regret any failure to adapt and prepare for shifting weather realities.

    “Unveiling a new effort to coordinate the government’s response, Vilsack said extreme weather events have already taken the U.S. by surprise, putting ranchers and others out of business. He pointed to the intensity and frequency of recent storms, long droughts, snowstorms and subzero weather as evidence that climate change is no longer hypothetical or in the future.”

    The AP article explained that, “To that end, the Obama administration said seven new ‘climate hubs‘ will open in regions across the U.S., acting as clearinghouses for data and research about effects of climate change. Based out of existing Agriculture Department facilities, the hubs will assess local climate risks, such as drought and wildfire, then develop plans for dealing with them, such as improved irrigation techniques.

    “The goal is to synchronize the federal government’s preparation and resources with what other entities, such as universities, tribal communities and state governments, are doing to prepare for shifting temperatures.”

    Laura Barron-Lopez reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Vilsack formally announced the launch of the Obama administration’s new climate hubs, which are aimed at helping farmers, ranchers, and communities adapt to and mitigate climate change.

    “When asked at the daily White House briefing if the initiative was formed to address climate issues farmers are currently facing or a move to prepare for future events, Vilsack said climate change impacts farmers now.”

    Also at yesterday’s White House briefing, Sec. Vilsack noted that, “So these climate action hubs — or these climate hubs — are really part of the president’s climate action plan and it’s his directive to us to actually act, not wait for Congress, not wait for laws to be passed, but to — but to do on our own.”

    news release yesterday from Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D., Colo.) stated that, “[Sen. Bennet], member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation, and Natural Resources, issued the following statement praising the USDA’s announcement today that it would be locating one of its seven regional ‘climate hubs’ in Colorado.

    “‘Extreme weather is one of the biggest threats to our agriculture industry, our forests, and our outdoor recreation economy,’ Bennet said. ‘Last year’s destructive wildfires, crippling drought, and devastating floods bear witness to this challenge. I’m pleased to see the USDA locate one of the national climate hubs in Colorado.  By researching these threats and improving federal, state, and local coordination, we will help our producers, landowners, and land managers better adapt to an ever-changing climate and mitigate its risks.'”


    Laura Meckler and Kristina Peterson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Just days after House Republican leaders backed legalization for most immigrants in the U.S. illegally, opponents in the party are making clear they will resist the push, casting fresh doubt on chances for legislative movement on immigration this year.”

    And Seung Min Kim reported yesterday at Politico that, “Forget about that pathway to citizenship.

    “The Republican divide on whether undocumented immigrants can become citizens is consuming most of the headlines. But there’s a trickier issue at play that ultimately could prove to be a bigger stumbling block for immigration reform: a guest-worker program for future immigrants.”

    The article noted that, “Last March, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reached a delicately crafted deal on the number of low-skilled workers — such as hospitality employees — who can legally come into the country. That deal is a major reason why the Senate reform bill was able to pass in June.

    “But House Republicans have not yet resolved this thorny problem — the GOP principles released last week only broadly touch the issue — and Republicans are split over whether to raise or reduce the number of guest workers coming into the country, according to several top sources close to the issue.”

    Farm Bill

    AP writer Henry C. Jackson reported yesterday that, “South Dakota’s congressional delegation pressed the U.S. agriculture secretary Wednesday to expedite a provision in the new farm bill that helps ranchers in the Dakotas and Nebraska recover from an October blizzard.

    “The nearly $100 billion-a-year federal farm bill, which awaits President Barack Obama’s signature, restarts a livestock disaster program that had expired. Members of the South Dakota delegation were among those urging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make sure there are no delays getting the relief money to ranchers.

    “Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and other lawmakers signed a letter Wednesday asking Vilsack to move quickly to provide relief to ranchers and farmers who suffered heavy losses. The total amount of the aid was not clear and would depend on total losses for producers.”

    The AP article noted that, “‘They’ve waited long enough for much-needed support,’ said Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., who worked on the committee that combined the House and Senate versions of the farm bill.”

    Rep. Noem also wrote a letter to Sec. Vilsack yesterday regarding the implementation of livestock related provisions.

    Also, Niraj Chokshi, writing yesterday at the GovBeat Blog (Washington Post) provided a closer look at nutrition related issues in the Farm Bill in an update titled, “Why the food stamp cuts in the farm bill affect only a third of states.” 

    And Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) penned a Letter to the Editor in today’s Washington Post that stated in part that, “The Post’s recent editorials on the farm bill praised its major reforms, then inexplicably argued that because it didn’t include smaller changes, The Post prefers no farm bill — and therefore no reform at all.”

    Chairwoman Stabenow added that, “The Post wants more reforms. I did, too. In a bipartisan compromise, nobody gets everything they want — but that’s no reason to spike a bill that has achieved bipartisan backing for major reforms The Post has endorsed. We worked with members of both parties to pass legislation that will reduce the deficit and help create jobs. That’s exactly what the American people expect leaders to do.”

    Background resources regarding the 2014 Farm Bill have been posted at Online, including: A timeline of key legislative actions leading up to the passage of the measure, a transcript of the House debate on passage of the conference report, and transcripts of both the cloture vote debate and debate on final passage of the Farm Bill conference report in the Senate.

    Also from the archive, this summary of the earliest hearings on the Farm Bill, starting with a hearing highlighting dairy issues from April 20, 2010 in Harrisburg, Pa. (related audio from then House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) from that hearing), and a hearing the next day (April 21, 2010) by the House Ag Committee that took place in Washington, D.C.  A related article summarizing that hearing is available here.

    Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) noted that, “The United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) today reminded producers of recent changes to the organic farm safety net and key dates for producers to know for their 2014 crops.

    “In its support for the continued growth of organic agriculture, RMA expanded the coverage options for producers through Federal crop insurance. Through efforts to better collect and evaluate price and yield data, RMA has worked with other USDA agencies over the past several years to develop new policies, expanding the options for organic producers. The agency added organic price elections for 2014 for eight additional crops (oats, peppermint, apricots, apples, blueberries, almonds, pears, and grapes for juice) bringing the total number of crops with organic price elections to sixteen.”

    The RMA update added that, “Organic producers should be aware of the final sales closing date to apply for insurance for the 2014 crop year. For most crops, that date is March 15. The sales closing date is the last day to buy a new policy or change an existing policy’s coverage level.”

    Agricultural Economy

    Reuters writer Steve Gorman reported yesterday that, “Drought-stricken California farmers facing drastic cutbacks in irrigation water are expected to idle some 500,000 acres of cropland this year in a record production loss that could cause billions of dollars in economic damage, industry officials said.

    “Large-scale crop losses in California, the No. 1 U.S. farm state producing half the nation’s fruits and vegetables, would undoubtedly lead to higher consumer prices, especially for tree and vine produce grown only there. But experts say it is too soon to quantify the effect.”

    In related news, Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The House late Wednesday approved a bill that would override an Obama administration decision to limit water to homes, farms and businesses in California’s Central Valley.

    “Members passed the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, H.R. 3964, in a mostly party-line 229-191 vote. Only seven Democrats voted with Republicans, and two Republicans voted against it.

    Mr. Kasperowicz explained that, “The bill prompted an hour-long debate on the House floor in which California Republicans argued that the federal government is destroying the Central Valley, and California Democrats argued that the problem is not government policy, but record-low rainfall and snowpack.

    “Republicans acknowledged that these natural conditions have hurt their state, but said the Obama administration is to blame for making the situation worse. In 2009, the administration required water to be diverted away from the Central Valley in order to protect fish, including the three-inch Delta smelt.”

    The Hill update indicated that, “‘Environmentalists have decided that fish are more important than the unemployed,’ said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Of the bill that passed the House today, he said it ‘puts families before fish.'”

    Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) noted yesterday that, “Today, the House of Representatives took measures to ensure that millions of Californians receive access to much needed water during the current drought crisis.  By relaxing restrictive water regulations, this Act will increase access to vital water supplies which will save crops and jobs throughout California.”

    And Rep. John Garamendi (D., Calif.) noted yesterday that, “Today feels like groundhog day. Once again, the House of Representatives is wasting time on a bill that validates water theft. It rips up California water contracts and state law. If enacted, this extreme bill would cause an ecological disaster for the San Francisco Bay and an economic crisis for California.

    “This drought is caused by nature – something so painfully obvious, it can be seen from space. Despite the availability of federal assistance, the entire Central Valley – Sacramento and San Joaquin – is suffering. We must find ways to add to our water supply instead of taking water from one group to another for political gain.”

    And in news developments regarding trade, William Mauldin and Siobhan Hughes reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Opposition from the Senate’s top Democrat to the White House’s trade agenda has highlighted a broader reality: The quest for new overseas deals has a diminishing number of friends in Congress.

    “In the 12 years since the legislature last granted a president special trade powers, Capitol Hill has changed significantly. Republicans, especially many tea-party-backed newcomers, are increasingly leery on the trade front and reluctant to grant President Barack Obama negotiating powers known as fast track. The Senate also has lost many of its strongest pro-trade voices, and another–Max Baucus (D., Mont.)–is leaving the Senate.

    “And within his own party, Mr. Obama may have to rally support without backup either from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who announced his opposition last week, or Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, who has expressed reservations.”

    The Journal article noted that, “In 2002, 27 of 222 House Republicans voted ‘no’ on whether to give President George W. Bush fast-track authority. This time, some 60 House Republicans might oppose the legislation, according to estimates from two people following the matter.”

    Regulatory Issues

    Darryl Fears reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Attorneys general in 21 states are backing an attempt to derail the Obama administration’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, fearing that the government will use that authority to regulate wastewater in other watersheds, including the Mississippi River Basin.

    “State attorneys general, most of them Republicans, from as far as Alaska and Montana joined the American Farm Bureau Federation in its fight to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from carrying out its plan to clean up the nation’s largest estuary. Impaired waters have led to fish-killing dead zones and other marine life die-offs for decades.

    “‘If this [cleanup] is left to stand,’ they argued in their joint amicus brief filed this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, ‘other watersheds, including the Mississippi River Basin, could be next.'”

    In other developments regarding regulatory issues, a news release this week from Rep. Doc Hastings (R., Wash.) noted that, “The Endangered Species Act (ESA) Congressional Working Group, led by Representatives [Hastings] and Cynthia Lummis (WY-at large), today released its final Report, Findings and Recommendations.

    “The report is the culmination of the Working Group’s eight-month effort to examine the ESA from a variety of viewpoints and angles, receive input on how the ESA is working and being implemented, and how and whether it could be updated to be more effective for both people and species. The report reflects hundreds of comments from outside individuals and testimony from nearly 70 witnesses who appeared before a Working Group forum and House Natural Resources Committee hearings.”

    Also, a news release yesterday from the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee indicated that, “[The Committee] today held a hearing to focus on the scientific justification and cumulative impacts of regulations, policies and practices promulgated by theEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their effects on state sovereignty. The hearing specifically focused on Texas as a case study.”

    Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R., Tex.) indicated at yesterday’s hearing that, “Instead of going after Texas and pushing an overreaching agenda from Washington, the EPA needs to start focusing on sound science and let states take the lead in protecting their own backyard.”

    And a news release yesterday from the American Farm Bureau Federation stated that, “A potential rule that significantly expands Clean Water Act Jurisdiction could require farmers to obtain permits necessary to continue to operate. Texas Farm Bureau PresidentKenneth Dierschke expressed concern today at a hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee that the Environmental Protection Agency is overreaching its authority and negatively affecting America’s farmers.

    “The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are likely to propose a rule that significantly expands the definition of waters the groups intend to regulate under the CWA. Through draft guidance and from a document leaked to the press, the agency implies that nearly all water is connected and EPA has authority to regulate them as the agency would ‘navigable’ waters, according to Dierschke, a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s board of directors.”

    And more specifically with respect to food safety issues, Ben Goad reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “A coalition of food industry trade groups is urging the Obama administration to abandon its plan to impose a new set of ‘regulatory taxes’ on businesses to help pay for a national food safety overhaul.

    “The administration’s top food safety official testified Wednesday in support of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of proposed user fees related to food facility registration and imports.”

    Mr. Goad pointed out that, “The additional funding would allow the Food and Drug Administration to impose a series of regulations drafted in the last year under the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act. The regulations together represent the largest food safety update in 70 years, but FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor told lawmakers that the agency lacks the funding to impose them.

    “‘We can put the rules on the books,’ Taylor told members of the House Energy and Commerce panel’s Health subcommittee. ‘Where we lack the resources — and where the fees would be essential — is in implementing the rules.'”


    Reuters writer Tom Polansek reported yesterday that, “Syngenta AG, under pressure from U.S. grain exporters to suspend sales of seeds containing a new genetically modified corn trait that is not approved in China, said on Wednesday it has already ‘sold out’ of the product.

    “Demand for the Agrisure Duracade trait has been strong because it is engineered to fight crop infestations of a damaging pest called rootworm, Chief Operating Officer Davor Pisk told analysts on a conference call.”

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