Home Farm Policy Menu Inside The Beltway -- December '98

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Inside The Beltway -- December '98

Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.

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red ballBudget Rumors Fly
red ballEPA/USDA Listening Sessions Are they?
red ballEPA & NPPC Out of Smoke-Filled Room
red ballSenate Shuffles “A” Committee Assignments
red ballA Soundbite Safety Net
red ballLand Grant Research Rules Expected
red ballIFS Meeting Set for January
red ballSmall Farm Council Work
red ballNRDC/Clean Water Net CAFO Horror Stories
red ballOrganic Comment Period Ticking Down
red ballUpcoming Meetings See You There!

red ballPrevious editions of Inside the Beltway

Inside the Beltway is Sustainable Farming Connection's online version of the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's Washington Report. We reproduce it with MSAWG's permission. Do not reproduce or post to any electronic network without specific permission. Contact Brad DeVries bdevries@cais.com for more information.

red ballBudget Rumors Fly

Ah, December! The month all the federal agencies are sweating bullets as they file their appeals to the Office of Management and Budget's draft versions of their budgets for the next fiscal year.

As we go to press, USDA is sending its appeal to the White House in defense of what they have asked for previously but OMB has denied. And while they twist in the wind, we try our best to find out just what they are fighting over. So, what do we know? Not nearly as much as we would like to know, but here goes.

There is a small farms budget initiative, but details are sketchy. The direct farm credit budget appears to be in decent shape. Research budget is said to contain no big surprises, which means once again no significant redirection and no big increases.

OMB has proposed sacrificing the Conservation Farm Option to provide offsets for new legislation (that would have to pass the Agriculture Committees and then be left untouched in appropriations) to authorize increases in Farmland Protection and Wildlife Habitat Incentive programs (which have already spent their full 96 farm bill funding). Evidently they believe two in the bush are worth a bird in the hand! We expect USDA to put up some opposition to this internecine warfare, but don't know how it will fare.

The budget will also once again propose new legislation to increase EQIP by $100 million as per the Administration's Clean Water Action Plan, but this too would have to be passed as new Ag Committee legislation and then escape appropriations unscathed to become reality. Surprisingly, the budget is not likely to include the CWAP's proposed new legislation to increase the Wetland Reserve acreage authorization.

One that you can bet is getting lots of attention over at the Department is an OMB proposal to merge and consolidate FSA, NRCS, and Rural Development staff at the county office level. We're betting this will be fought hard enough to get knocked out, but stay tuned! NRCS in particular takes it on the chin staff-wise in the OMB proposal. FSA, which as you may recall received a current year $40 million increase for staff as part of the emergency farm aid budget bill, is faring much better and appears to in line for increased funding to go with its post-farm bill decreased workload. Go figure!

In terms of the big picture, the situation remains the same: frozen and declining funds available for discretionary (annually appropriated) programs, as per the balanced budget act. Every Administration budget initiative, be it for education, clean water, or small farms, necessarily is taken out of other existing government services.

The appropriators will find room for some of these initiatives -- those with big constituencies or strong polling numbers -- and ignore the rest. The Administration will choose a few to make a stand over. In the meantime, the appropriators will look around for any mandatory funding they can get their bony hands around. In agriculture, this means would-be mandatory conservation, research and rural development programs are totally at risk, with the only protected sacred cows being AMTA and CRP payments.

The budget process will be dominated by the discussions over Social Security and tax cuts and will likely again fall far behind schedule, if not disintegrate completely as it did this year. This despite last week’s promise from incoming Speaker of the House (and former approps Chair) Bob Livingston and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to make the budget trains run on time. So we should expect appropriations to move ahead without waiting on a budget as we enter year two of the ad hoc non-budget non-process. Our best tactic? Be prepared to start early and get our letter writing and calling geared up for ASAP after the Annual Meeting!

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red ballAnybody Listening in Des Moines?

The sustainable agriculture and environmental community had a big turnout at the Des Moines, Iowa listening session on the USDA-EPA Draft Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations. Many MSAWG members attended and have provided us at the SAC office with reports on the session. Our MSAWG "field reporters" include John Crabtree of the Center for Rural Affairs, Pam Hansen of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, and Joe Fagin of the Iowa CCI.

About 250 people attended the session and over 50 of the 60 people who spoke called for stringent national regulations to deal with pollution from large-scale, factory farm operations. Many of the speakers have had to cope with the adverse effects of factory farms on their health and the environment. Most of the speakers were also strongly opposed to the NPPC compliance audit program announced just days before the session.

EPA Administrator Browner and USDA Secretary Glickman did not appear at the session, as scheduled, and no explanation was given for their absence. They were expecting, perhaps, accolades and laurels, instead of a guided tour of lagoon-front property? Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who did appear and heard the first hour of the four hours of comments, announced that he was going to call for a review of the NPPC-EPA Compliance Audit Program.

A hearing was held in Chattanooga, TN on December 9 and the remaining scheduled hearings include Indianapolis, IN on Dec. 10; Fort Worth, TX on Dec. 10; Denver, CO on Dec.14; and Annapolis, MD on Dec. 15. Rumor has it that an Idaho session is in the works, at the request of Senator Larry Craig.

Note that USDA and EPA are not taking written comments at the hearing and that hearing comments are not part of the "official" administrative record on the Draft Strategy. Written comments for the official record must be submitted by January 19, 1999 to Denise C. Coleman, Program Analyst, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, ATTN: AFO, Box 2890, Washington D.C. 20013-2890.

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red ballEPA & NPPC Say It’ll All Be OK

EPA gave the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) a Thanksgiving eve present by announcing an agreement which gives NPPC oversight of a Clean Water Act Compliance Audit Program (CAP) for swine feeding operations. The details of the agreement and the CAP are posted on the Web at http://www.epa.gov/oeca/ore/porkcap.

Our review of the CAP finds significant flaws. First, the CAP was not released for public comment before its adoption by the EPA. The deal is an agreement negotiated between the EPA and the NPPC, without public review or comment, even from the individuals and communities dealing with the adverse effects of large-scale swine operations. This is particularly insulting to those who are currently making the effort to attend and speak at the USDA-EPA Draft AFO Strategy "listening sessions".

Second, the on-farm environmental assessment report provided for under the CAP is a private document. Even the EPA will not receive the actual assessment, but instead receives a pro forma "Final Report" filled out by the producer.

Third, the CAP provides for Consent Agreements and Orders with a cap of $40,000 in civil penalties under the Clean Water Act against a swine operation, without regard to its size or the degree of environmental harm that may have been caused by the violations. Even this amount may be significantly reduced, if the operation corrects its deficiencies to the satisfaction of the farm environmental assessors. Some violations, such as pollutant discharges from land application because the land base is too small to handle the waste, may be waived altogether.

Moreover, the assessments and Consent Agreement/Orders cannot address the issue of whether the swine production operation is in violation of the Clean Water Act because it is operating without a NPDES permit as required by law. This omission renders the CAP toothless to adequately deal with the fact that thousands of production facilities are required by law to have these permits under the Clean Water Act, but don’t and they can’t be busted for violating a permit they don’t have, or for the lack of that same permit. As Yossarian found out, that Catch-22 sure is a doozie!

We here at SAC are currently working with the Clean Water Network in drafting a letter of protest to EPA Administrator Carol Browner and others in the Administration over the substance and process of establishing this NPPC CAP. The EPA has also indicated that it will be publishing an announcement of the NPPC-EPA deal in the Federal Register, at which time the agency will take comments even though the CAP is apparently a "done deal". The SAC office will consult with our members in preparing comments in response to this announcement.

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red ballSenate Shuffles on “A” Committees

The Senate has finalized committee assignments for the coming Congress, including a few changes to the rosters of the Agriculture and Appropriations panels. New to Senate Ag will be Democratic Senator-elect Blanche Lambert-Lincoln (Ark.) and Republican Senator-elect Peter Fitzgerald (Ill.). Departing that committee will be two southerners, Republican Phil Gramm (Tex.) and Democrat Mary Landrieu (La.). Arizona Republican John Kyl will take the place of the defeated Boss Hog Lauch Faircloth (NC) on the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Democratic line-up on Approps will see the addition of Richard Durbin (Ill.) and Diane Feinstein (Cal.), replacing fellow Golden-Stater Barbara Boxer (for whom Feinstein gave up her approps seat two years ago with Boxer up for re-election in 1998) and retiring Senator Dale Bumpers (Ark.). Both Durbin and Feinstein are likely to fill the two open Democratic slots on the Ag Approps subcommittee.

On the House side, the Democrats have not yet named committee line-ups, in part due to their protest over the Republicans’ refusal to revise the R/D committee ratios despite the notable shrinkage of the Republican majority in that body over the last two elections. The Republicans have announced their committee slates, which will see Larry Combest of Texas take the Chair of the Ag Committee, along with new arrivals Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), Greg Walden (Ore.), Mike Simpson (Id.), Doug Ose (Cal.), Robin Hayes (NC), and Ernie Fletcher (Ky.). Republicans leaving the House Ag Committee are Bob Smith (Ore.), John Doolittle (Cal.), Ron Lewis (Ky.), Mark Foley (Fla.), Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), and Charles W. “Chip” Pickering (Miss.).

The House Approps Committee will see a new chair as well in C.W. Bill Young of Florida, joined on the Republican side by Jo Ann Emerson, John Sununu (NH), Kay Granger (Tex.), and John Peterson (Pa.). Saying adios to approps are Bob Livingston, Joe McDade (Pa.), Mike Parker (Miss.), and Mark Neumann, (Wis.), all of whom, with the exception of Speaker-elect Livingston, get the rare opportunity to separate their true friends from those who were merely fawning over an appropriator. It’s a safe bet they’ll really, really miss the fawning…

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red ballAiring out the Soundbite Safety Net

We heard a brief flurry of noises on the so-called "farm safety net" in the past week. Of course, everyone expects that the Agriculture Committees will consider changes early in the new session to crop and revenue insurance policy. Insurance programs in many circles have become synonymous with the term "safety net." Several legislative proposals are in the works, including presumably one from the Department.

Last week, Vice President Gore spoke to a Farm Journal forum and, in a speech that touched on beef and pork purchases for the school lunch program, export subsidies, fast track, farmland preservation, and the wonders of biotechnology (insert your own oak/human DNA quip here it’s just too darn easy), the Veep called on Secretary Glickman to deliver to him a comprehensive farm safety net plan. A day later, OMB issued an invitation to a briefing on a farm safety net proposal, but alas, the briefing centered on overall budget woes and barely mentioned the safety net issue even in passing. Oh well.

Sensing an opportunity to shift the terms of the debate, however, some of the members of the National Commission on Small Farms are considering a letter to the Administration highlighting their recommendations on issues such as market access, price discrimination, marketing alternatives, improved but targeted revenue insurance, and adequate direct credit for beginning and small farmers, as the appropriate bundle of policies to incorporate in the new plan. This could be helpful in encouraging a more serious policy discussion.

Of course, the last time the White House ordered up a new safety net plan -- in the signing statement of the 1996 farm bill a whole lotta nuthin’ happened, and even during congressional consideration of the $7 billion emergency farm aid package, the Department and Administration remained reactionary and without any proposals of their own. So, don’t hold your breath on the second time around.

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red ballLand Grant Research Rules

The 1998 ag research bill mandated that all institutions receiving federal research and extension formula funds prepare, submit and have approved "plans of work" before funds are released. In addition, the new law requires each institution to implement a process to obtain stakeholder input under regulations to be promulgated by USDA.

We now expect two Federal Register notices to appear in January. One will be proposed guidelines for developing plans of work, with a 30 day comment period, and the other will be the formal proposed rule for stakeholder input, with a 30 or possibly 60 day comment period.

Each land grant will submit their plans of work, which will include their stakeholder input process as well as their procedures for merit and peer review, by June 1st. USDA will have 90 days to review the plans and an additional 30 days to negotiate problems with the institution, with the hope of having plans approved by the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1st.

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red ballIFS ARS Meeting Set for January

Ferd Hoefner and Mark Keating have been putting together a national network of sustainable ag researchers, practitioners and advocates to meet with the Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, MD on January 11. The purpose of the meeting is to review the agency’s Integrated Farming Systems (IFS) National Program statement and identify opportunities for the sustainable ag community to partner with ARS field laboratories in long term, systems based field experiments.

The IFS National Program has potential to respond to the needs of alternative producers and developing working partnerships is a critical step for prioritizing our research needs. Congress has requested that ARS incorporate greater stakeholder participation into the IFS program. The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute has operated its Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial in collaboration with ARS and other partners and the meeting will lay the groundwork for similar opportunities.

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red ballSmall Farm Council Begins

As we reported in the last issue, USDA's Small Farm Action Team (which should have its own line of S-FAT Action Figures in stores by Christmas) submitted a progress report on all the A Time to Act recommendations to the Small Farm Commission members during their meeting in October. One of the internal USDA mechanisms to continue the discussion is about to become reality -- the establishment of the USDA Council on Small Farms, with representation from nearly all USDA agencies. The first meeting of the Council will take place December 16th.

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red ballThe horror… The horror

Early this month, the Clean Water Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council released the report "America's Animal Factories: How States Fail to Prevent Pollution from Livestock Waste." The first chapter of the report provides a brief overview of the adverse environmental and health effects of factory farms. Subsequent chapters summarize the factory farm problem in 30 states, focusing on issues such as specific pollution problems, the regulatory climate, citizen involvement, and the extent to which local governments have been prevented by the states from using zoning, public health authority, and other local government tools in dealing with factory farm problems.

The report was released on December 3 simultaneously in many states and in conjunction with the December 4 Draft AFO Strategy listening session in Des Moines, Iowa. A number of MSAWG members provided information for state reports, e.g. Brother David Andrews of the National Rural Catholic Life Conference for Iowa; Pam Hansen of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance for Illinois; and Nancy Thompson, Center for Rural Affairs for Nebraska.

The report is posted on the Clean Water Network website at http://www.cwn.org and the NRDC website at http://www.nrdc.org. To obtain a hard copy of the report, contact Carol James by e-mail at cjames@nrdc.org or by phone at (202) 289-2390. Please let her know as soon as possible if you need multiple copies for distribution. NRDC will be doing another printing of the report soon.

Also, for more information on the consequences of large-scale industrialized factory farms on rural communities, check out the book "Pigs, Profits, and Rural Communities", edited by Kendall M. Thu and E. Paul Durrenberger. The book is available from the State University Press of New York for $17.95 in paperback. Check the web at http://www.sunypress.edu or phone (607) 277-2211.

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red ballOrganic Comment Clock Ticking

As we reported previously, the USDA has three “thought papers” in the field, with comment required by December 14. Kathleen Merrigan reports that the National Organic Standards Board has adopted official responses to the two livestock papers, with both paper and NOSB response now posted on the National Organic Program webpage at http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop. NOSB response to the certification paper will be revised and posted there.

In addition to the NOSB comments, the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture is circulating a sign-on letter with detailed comment, and the Henry A. Wallace Institute has posed its comments on the antibiotics and paraciticides in livestock production on its own webpage at http://www.hawiaa.org and should have its comments on certification there by Friday, Dec. 11.

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red ballSee You In Sunny Madison!

You’d have to have spent the last six months living under a rock (not all it’s cracked up to be, let me tell you) not to know that MSAWG will be celebrating its Third Annual Gathering at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center in Madison Wisconsin, January 22-24.

We’ve lined up a spectacular roster of speakers and workshops, including a keynote address by Greg Gunthorp, an Indiana pastured hog producer and delegate to the USDA Commission on Small Farms entitled “A Time To Act Is USDA Walking Its Talk on Small Farms?”

Saturday night will see Eric Sessions up from Decorah, Iowa with his fiddle and red-hot string band to spin out a dance tune or two. Contact Chris Reitz of the Wisconsin Rural Development Center at (608) 226-0300 for more information on registration. You won’t want to miss it!

Also in January, a conference on “The State of North America’s Private Land,” hosted the Soil and Water Conservation Society in Chicago, January 19-21. The goal of the conference is “to assess the health of private lands, including small and limited resource farm and forest land operations and to begin the process of setting goals for improving the health of the land.” Panel discussions will focus on soil, air, water, biodiversity, “Achieving Integration and Consistency,” “Putting the Pieces Together,” and “Viewpoints.” You can find more information on the web at http://www.swcs.org, or contact the SWCS (515) 289-2331.

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