Inside The Beltway -- July 2000
Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.
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Cultural movers, shakers, and hangers-on will all make the scene August 4-5 at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy, Wisconsin. That's the weekend of the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's Summer meeting and - there's no way this could be a coincidence - the nearby "Ozzfest 2000" Tour, featuring geriatric shock rocker Ozzy Osbourne. Wear black, look sullen, and contact Dave Butcher at (218) 568-8624 or the SAC office at (202) 547-5754 for more information on the former.
In the exhaustive research that went into this DC Report Item, I visited the official Ozzy Osbourne website (mainly to make sure I had his name spelled correctly. I didn't) and must conclude that the majority of Ozzy fans either have super fast DSL modems or a whole heck of a lot of time on their hands. Lots of big graphics files, very little text info - I went through four huge downloads just to get an answer to my original spelling question!
Panel 1. Some Emergency Funding Attached to Military Construction Bill
Many strange things are happening again on the way to agricultural appropriations this year. The latest wrinkle was a decision by the congressional Republican leadership to attach a wide range of emergency spending items, including agriculture, to the Military Construction appropriations bill.
However, while ag funding related to hurricanes on the east coast was included, many other items pending in either the House or Senate bills were left out of the final deal. This includes critical conservation technical assistance money for NRCS to implement WRP and CRP agreements as well as emergency support for dairy and livestock. These and other ag emergency spending items will now need to find a seat at the table in the regular ag appropriations bill, or in a end-of-year continuing resolution that combines all the unfinished spending business Congress may be left with come September.
We dodged one major bullet in route to the final deal on the military construction bill. As you may recall from March, the House version of the ag emergency supplemental included a provision that wiped out the $120 million Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems as an offset to pay for some of the emergency spending. No offsets were used on the military construction bill, and so it now appears the Initiative will be able to continue through review panel stage this summer, with awards to be made in September. The only possible way now to lose FY 00 Initiative funds would be for them to be taken away in the regular ag appropriations bill, but reaching back to FY 00 funds in the FY 01 bill seems unlikely.
On the clean water front, however, the military construction bill was not so friendly. In a dead of night sneak attack, Senate and House leadership, egged on by conventional agriculture and forestry interests, included language to prohibit EPA from issuing new Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) regulations. This action is part of a powerful, well-orchestrated attack on making any forward motion on controlling polluted runoff from non-pointsources. The situation is further complicated by divisions on the environmental side on whether more progress could be made with or without the new rules.
Not to be outdone by Congress, the White House on July 6 directed EPA to issue the new regs quickly, prior to the July 13 deadline for the President to sign the bill. If they meet the deadline, it will effectively nullify the prohibition - and raise another storm of disinformational screaming from the groups who feel non-point sources should continue to receive a free ride. Expect further action on this issue as other appropriations bills make their way through the process.
Panel 2. House Floor Action Starts on Ag Bill
As the military bill was being finished, the House started debate on the regular FY 01 ag appropriations bill. Floor consideration was delayed for many weeks over battles about trading with Cuba, funding offsets for disasters payments, and a variety of other issues. We won a major victory when the House leadership, backing off an earlier decision, allowed emergency payments to apple and potato growers to proceed without requiring budget offsets. The offset package originally included all that is left of the Wetlands Reserve Program for next year. SAC led an offensive to reverse that proposal, aiding nicely by Sierra Club's release of its study of the sizeable backlog in farmer demand for the program. While this win does not provide badly needed additional funds for the WRP, it at least saves the program from immediate extinction.
The proposed TMDL rule also reared its head on the ag bill. Democratic members of the Agriculture Committee lead the charge on the floor to strip all funding from the Office of the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment at USDA to dramatically express their displeasure that anyone at USDA might assist EPA on water quality guidelines in anyway, however weakly and inconsistently.
In other floor action, Rep. Eva Clayton (D-NC) was successful in an amendment to take away money from the Ag Research Service to increase the appropriation for 1890 colleges and universities, while Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY) was successful in striking language from the bill that would restrict the American Heritage Rivers Initiative. The House is expected to resume consideration of the bill when it returns from the July 4 recess.
Panel 3. The Timeline and Conference Issues
Theoretically, the Senate could take up the bill right after the House finishes its action. However, there are quite a variety of issues that could hang up action for some time. Our best guess, and it is only a guess, is that the Senate may complete floor action in July, but conference consideration is not likely until September. And at that point the bill could become part of a mega-spending bill that will likely be the last order of business before Congress leaves town for the elections.
Whenever and however it happens, we have many important conference issues, which are summarized below. We support:
State Mediation Markup
As part of bill revising commodity exchange laws, the Senate Agriculture Committee has approved language to extend and revise state mediation programs. Current statutory authority for the programs -- which use neutral, third party mediators to help settle disputes between farmers, lenders, and USDA programs -- expires this year. Without a reauthorization, appropriations for the federal matching money could be subject to a point of order, putting the entire program at risk. At this point in the appropriations process, both the House and Senate bills fund the program for FY 01 at $3 million, but supporters will breathe easier if a new authorization is in place. Twenty-four states currently have mediation programs, including all of the north central states except Ohio. The SAC office played a key role in getting the reauthorization process moving.
Harkin to GAO: Payment Limitation
On June 27, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) requested the US General Accounting Office to study and report on the distribution of farm program payments, including Agricultural Market Transition Act (AMTA) payments, loan deficiency payments (LDPs), marketing loan gains, and generic commodity certificates. In his letter to GAO, Harkin asks for the distribution of benefits by size of farm and for an analysis of how this distribution has changed since the 1996 farm bill. He also requests information on the effect of congressional action to double the size of the payment limitation in the recent emergency bailout bills and the effect of Secretary Glickman's decision to institute generic certificates which allow recipients to collect subsidies over and above the payment limitations. Finally, the request also asks for analysis of the effect of the prevailing distribution on beginning farmers and on producers with low crop bases from previous programs. The report will hopefully be available prior to the next major emergency bill starts its way through Congress.
CAFO "Unified Strategy" Update
Both the USDA and the EPA are on the verge of releasing important guidance for the regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The EPA is finalizing its draft guidance to the states and model permit for CAFOs and the USDA NRCS is revising its draft Technical Guidance for Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs). The latest word we have from EPA staff, at an NRCS briefing on July 6, 2000, is that EPA will recommend that states require all CAFOs with more than 1,000 animal units to apply for NPDES permits but that CAFOs with CNMPs may not have to obtain NPDES permits. When asked whether CAFO operators with CNMPs, but without NPDES permits, could be sued by citizens under the Clean Water Act, the EPA representative indicated that the issue was one for the courts. Hardly a satisfactory answer!
The EPA has also indicated that it will be relying primarily on NRCS Conservation Practice Standards, as implemented through NRCS state field office technical guides and incorporated into individual CNMPs, as the standards for regulating CAFOs. At the July 6th briefing, the NRCS indicated that is was revising its guidance to require that CNMPs for CAFOs must include all recommended CNMP plan elements as plan criteria, not merely as considerations. The NRCS is also developing a new section detailing the certification program and process for third parties who develop CNMP elements for CAFO operators. NRCS will develop samples of CNMPs for a variety of livestock types and geographic locations. NRCS also requested that SAC and other organizations provide the agency with information on sustainable livestock production practices. Martha Noble will take on this task for the SAC office and will be contacting MSAWG folks for recommendations about information and contacts on sustainable production methods to submit to NRCS.
Although we generally approve of the changes that NRCS is making to its draft technical guidance, we let both NRCS staff and the EPA representative at the July 6th meeting know that we still stand by our position that NRCS conservation practice standards and CNMPs are not suitable as a substitute for NPDES permits and regulatory agency oversight of CAFOs. The NRCS processes for developing conservation practice standards and for individual CNMPs lack sufficient public review and accountability. EPA and USDA are still on a course that muddies the regulatory process and that may not meet the legal requirements of EPA's own NPDES permit regulations or the Clean Water Act.
Groundwater Pathogen Rule
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently extended the public comment period for a proposed rule for the
protection of groundwater from pathogens to August 9, 2000 and has provided additional details on submitting comments.
See Federal Register, Vol. 65 at p. 37331 (June 14, 2000). The EPA issued the proposed rule under the Safe Drinking
Water Act. The purpose of the rule is to provide for the protection of ground water sources of drinking water which
are at high risk for contamination from bacteria and viruses, particularly those pathogens associated with
animal waste/fecal contamination. Federal Register, Vol. 65 at p.30194 (May 10, 2000). The proposed rule specifies
requirements for monitoring and disinfection of groundwater used in public drinking water systems and addresses other
measures for protecting ground water sources of public drinking water. The EPA has posted the proposed rule, a
Question and Answer Fact Sheet and a 274-page regulatory impact analysis of the proposed rule on the Office of
Ground Water and Drinking Water website at www.epa.gov/safewater/gwr.html. Martha Noble is working on
draft comments, for SAC, which will be circulated to MSAWG organizations by July 20th. Please let her know if your
organization is interested in submitting comments.
Interagency Antimicrobial Resistance Plan
An Interagency Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance has released Part I of a Draft Public Health Action Plan to Combat Antimicrobial Resistance. The Task Force was formed in 1999 and is co-chaired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health. Other agencies on the Task Force include the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the EPA, the Health Care Financing Administration, and the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Part I of the Action Plan focuses on domestic actions. A copy of the draft action plan is posted on the web at www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/actionplan/. A copy may also be obtained by mailing a request to Office of Health Communication, National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mailstop C-14, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 3033; by faxing a request to (404) 371-5489; or by e-mailing a request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments should be submitted by August 4, 2000 by mail or fax to the addresses provided above or by e-mail to email@example.com.
EPA Water Quality Report
The EPA recently released the report entitled "National Water Quality Inventory: 1998 Report to Congress". The report is based on data collected by the states in 1998 and submitted to EPA under Clean Water Act section 305b. The 1998 data indicate that 40 percent of the nation's waterways remain too polluted for fishing and swimming. Agricultural and urban runoff are the main sources of pollutants and the primary pollutants are sediment, bacteria, the nutrient phosphorus and nitrogen, and metals. In addition to a national summary, the report contains individual state summaries. The report is posted on the web at www.epa.gov/ow under the heading "national water quality". You can obtain a hardcopy of the report by calling EPA's National Service Center for Environmental Publications at 1-800-490-9198. Ask for publication number EPA841-R-00-001.
To the Wire on TMDLs
About a year after releasing a proposed rule revising the Clean Water Act's Total Daily Maximum Load (TMDL) program,
the Clinton administration may push to release the final rule before it is blocked by a Congressional rider attached
to the FY2000 supplemental appropriations bill, which was incorporated into the FY2001 appropriations bill for
military spending. The TMDL rider would prevent the EPA from using FY2000 or FY2001 funds to implement any changes
to the current TMDL program. President Clinton has until July 13th to sign the bill and D.C. reports and rumors
indicate that the Administration will try to get the TMDL rule finalized before signing the bill, reasoning that any
TMDL rule changes completed before the bill is signed will not be blocked by the rider.
Didn't we just do this? Seems like only yesterday we were announcing new faces on the National Organic Standards Board, and yet here's a notice from AMS requesting nominations for five more slots on the Board. They're looking for nominees in the following categories: 2 organic producers, 1 organic certifying agent, and 2 consumer/public interest organization representatives. The official request from AMS is in the June 2, 2000 Federal Register.
Official nominations with resumes must be postmarked on or before August 31, 2000 and should go to Keith Jones,
Program Manager, National Organic Program, USDA-AMS-TMP-NOP, Room 2510-So., Ag Stop 0268, P.O. Box 96456,
Washington, DC 20090-6456 - and if you can fit that entire address on one side of a regular envelope, you win a
Farmland Preservation Forums
The USDA Policy Advisory Committee on Farmland Protection will be holding Listening Forums on Maintaining Agriculture and Forestry in Rapidly Growing Areas in four locations around the country. Federal Register, Vol. 65 at p.40606 (June 20, 2000). The forum in the Midwest will be held on Jul 13th at the Dekalb County Farm Bureau Center for Agriculture, 1350 West Prairie Dr., Sycamore, IL 60178 from 9:00 a.m. until noon. The forum is open to the public. If you wish to speak at the forum, contact Mary Lou Flores at (202) 720-4525.
CRP Emergency Haying & Grazing
On June 1, 2000, the USDA Farm Service Agency issued Notice CRP-368 authorizing county FSA offices to request emergency grazing on CRP land for all or part of a county affected by severe drought. On July 6, 2000 the FSA issued an additional notice authorizing emergency haying on CRP land. Each FSA county office must develop a detailed justification documenting a 40 percent loss of soil moisture and forage for the preceding 4 months and for the current month before the date of request.
This justification must be particularly compelling for requests submitted during the designated primary nesting season for wildlife in the State. Conditions are similar to those of last year's emergency program. For grazing, the NRCS must develop a grazing plan with the producer that is site specific and reflects local wildlife needs and concerns. For partial field grazing, at least 25 percent of a field must be left ungrazed. For whole field grazing, the stocking rate is limited to no more than 75 percent of the total stocking rate. All grazing must be discontinued by October 1, 2000, and the annual rental payment will be reduced by 25 percent for the acres actually grazed. The complete grazing Notice is posted on the web at ftp://ftp.fsa.usda.gov/public/notices/CRP_368.PDF. Emergency haying is authorized until August 31, 2000, or until disaster conditions no longer exist, whichever comes first. CRP participants who do not own or lease livestock may rent or lease the haying privilege to an eligible livestock farmer located in an approved county. At least 50 percent of the CRP contract acreage must left unhayed for wildlife. CRP annual rental payments will be reduced 25 percent to account for hayed CRP acreage.
US WTO Negotiating Position
The U.S. Trade Representative submitted initial proposals for agricultural trade reform to the World Trade
Organization (WTO), as the WTO commenced a negotiating session on agriculture trade June 29-30. This is the
second negotiating session since the failure of the WTO to begin a new trade round at the ministerial meeting in
Seattle in 1999. Many of the U.S. proposals are directly at odds with European Union positions on agricultural trade
reform. The U.S. proposes to eliminate the "blue box" category of farm subsidies that provide direct support to
farmers in exchange for commitments to limit production. These subsidies are currently exempt from WTO commitments
to reduce subsidies, unlike trade distorting subsidies that fall into the "amber box" category. The EU contends that
U.S. is proposing the elimination of blue box subsidies because the 1996 Farm Bill removed production restriction
measures from U.S. commodity programs, while the EU has continued the use of such measures.
With regard to another contentious issue, GMOs and agricultural biotechnology, the U.S. proposal deliberately avoids the
use of either term. The U.S., however, does not want to reopen the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
in order to avoid a debate on the precautionary principle but does want to push measures to promote the export of
GMOs. Finally, although the U.S. proposal summary states that the proposal will encourage resource conservation and
environmental protection programs, the proposal does not specifically address either issue. The U.S. proposal will
be further refined as negotiations proceed, a process which is expected to take years. The text of the U.S.
negotiation proposals is posted on the web at www.ustr.gov/releases/2000/06/index.html, under item No.
"Fresh" in a Processed World
The Food and Drug Administration announced that it is holding a public meeting and taking public comments on the
use of the term "fresh" in labels for foods processed with nonthermal technologies. See Federal Register, Vol 65 at p.41029 (July 3, 2000). The public meeting will be held on
July 21, 2000 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Holiday Inn City Centre, 300 East Ohio St., Chicago, IL. To register
for the meeting, contact Kimberly Phillips or Darlene M. Bailey, Office of Public Affairs (HFR-CE645), FDA, 300
South Riverside Plaza, Suite 550, Chicago IL, 60606, Phone: (312) 353-7126 or FAC: (312) 886-3280. FDA will also be
taking comments on the issue until August 21, 2000. Written comments should be submitted by mail to Dockets
Management Branch (HFA-305), FDA, Room 1061, 5630 FishersLane, Rockville, MD 20852, or by e-mail to
FDADocket@oc.fda.gov. Comments should be addressed to the
Docket Number 00N-1351.
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