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Around The Grange
National Legislative Update
 

By National Grange Press Release (May 2015)

  JUNE 12, 2015 --

Congress will begin a two month legislative marathon in June to work on pending legislation ranging from appropriations (spending), Patriot Act (personal privacy), Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and immigration to Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS).  Following what may be the most intense two month working period of the year, Congress will recess again for the month of August.

Several major initiatives have rocketed to the top of the lawmakers’ priority lists.  Most of these issues are begging for action and resolution.  One thing is for certain, these issues will not go away and fixing them will not be painless.  Here are some public policy “elephants” you’ll be hearing about in months to come.

Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Final Regulation

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers released the Administration’s 297-page Clean Water Act final rule that supposedly clarifies what streams, wetlands, ponds and ditches are subject to regulation under the current law.  This May 27, 2015 action follows an extended public comment period where farmers, ranchers, landowners and many other businesses saw the proposed WOTUS rule as an unprecedented federal government land control grab.  These groups were proactive by publicizing, researching, analyzing and submitting comments based upon their own personal knowledge and experience.  By the end of the comment period, it was clear that if the proposal were to become final as written, practically all water on all agricultural lands would become regulated by the Clean Water Act and subject to EPA and Corps of Engineers oversight.

EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy announced that she was finalizing the clean water rule to protect streams and wetlands that one in three Americans relies on for drinking water.  She maintains the final rule will not create any new permitting requirements and will maintaining all previous exemptions and exclusions.  Though the rule is only about clarifications according to McCarty, it became immediately clear the rule may cover more wetlands, streams, headwaters and small water bodies that previously have never been subject to the Clean Water Act.  We’ll know more as analysts pour over the almost 300 page “book” of final regulations.

Prior to recess, the House passed a bill (H.R. 1732) on a bipartisan vote of 261-155 to kill the WOTUS rule.  The Senate appears to have enough bipartisan votes to pass a similar bill, S. 1140.  However, the votes fall short of a veto-proof two thirds majority.   This sets up the scenario that these bills may be rolled into an omnibus spending package this fall, making it more difficult for the President to veto.

In the May 26th issue of The New York Times, a fascinating story called into question the lawfulness of EPA’s solicitation of public comments for the proposed WOTUS rule.   Administrator McCarthy testified before a Senate committee in March that roughly 90% of the more than one million comments were supportive of EPA’s proposal.  NY Times writer Eric Lipton suggests this exaggerated support may have come from an unprecedented grassroots lobbying campaign by EPA which may have violated federal law.  Apparently EPA used Thunderclap, a social media service, where at a specific predetermined time a message of support or call to action was posted at once across all supporters’ social media channels amplifying support for WOTUS.  Several news and investigative sources have reported the EPA undertook a concerted effort on the web, in social media and with environmental groups to drum up support for WOTUS.  The Justice Department specifically limits grassroots lobbying by executive officials directed to the public at large to persuade that public to support some issue of concern to the executive.

World Trade Organization (WTO) Rules against Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for Fourth Time

On May 18th, the World Trade Organization once again ruled against the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling rule for meat.  WTO found the U.S. labels to be non-compliant with international trade obligations by discriminating against livestock raised in Canada and Mexico.     The decision opens the door for Canada and Mexico to retaliate against American goods and services by imposing high tariffs (up to 100%) on a wide range of targeted items which effectively prevents their export economically.  The House Agriculture Committee acted quickly on May 20th to approve H.R.2393 which repeals COOL on a vote of 38-6.  The repeal measure is now on its way to a vote on the House floor.  The Senate Agriculture Committee will be slower to take action on COOL.  Many want to learn the full impact of potential retaliation before supporting any changes.  While several committee members favor full repeal, others are committed to see if existing COOL statutory authority can be revised and still comply with WTO rules.

The USDA earlier in May reported to Congress that COOL provided little economic benefit but that consumers were still interested in labeling.  National Grange policy supports consumers’ right to know and calls upon Congress to fix the problem of discriminating against Canadian and Mexican animals and meat to prevent retaliation against American goods and services.

Canada has made public its tariff targets ; here is a sampling of the impacted commodities in several Grange states:  Vermont-chocolate, cattle, maple syrup and sugar, corn; Michigan-beef, chicken, corn, cereal, baked goods; Ohio-pork, corn, baked goods, beef, pasta; Minnesota -ethanol, baked goods, pork,  corn; New York-jewelry, baked goods, chicken, ketchup, tomato sauces; Colorado-beef, pork, baked goods, chocolate.

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA or Fast Track)

Washington D.C.’s most striking example of bipartisanship and cooperation with the President was the Senate’s approval May 22nd of H.R.1314, Trade Promotion Authority.  The bipartisan vote was 62-37 for the President’s priority legislation.  The bill will need strong bipartisan support to pass in the House where ultra-liberal Democrats and ultra-conservative Republicans stand in opposition.

Without TPA first giving the President authority to negotiate, there can be no Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).   The TPP is a proposed eleven country trade pact between the U.S. and Pacific Rim countries.  One huge benefit to the U.S. of a successful TPP is that those inside the agreement reap trade advantages unavailable to those on the outside.  The U.S. is already globally competitive in services and agriculture.  TPP will give these fast growing areas of our economy a further boost.  TPP will brighten our manufacturing picture too, where incredible technological advances are already causing production and jobs to return home.

Trade agreements the past 30 years have proven very beneficial to the economics of agriculture.  National Grange policy recognizes that trade agreements may affect segments of the economy differently.  As such, National Grange advocates for the creation of trade agreements that will be beneficial and flexible while protecting not only agriculture but also the American dream.

Legal Setback for President’s Immigration Actions

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this week refused to lift a judge’s order blocking the President’s sweeping executive actions which would allow millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally to live and work without fear of deportation.  The order stems from a lawsuit filed by 26 states challenging the President’s executive actions, arguing he exceeded his constitutional authority and that his actions would overburden state healthcare, education and motor vehicle services.

The order applies to the President’s programs that enable parents of U.S. citizens or legal resident children to apply for temporary deportation relief and work permits as well as to those immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

EPA  Proposes Spray-Free Bees

A temporary pesticide-free zone on certain areas and farms at the height of pollination has been proposed by EPA.  The initiative only applies to those areas where professional beekeepers haul in their hives which accounts for about 90 percent of honey bees found in the U.S.  The pesticide  halt would apply only when the flower is in bloom and only on the property where the bees are working, not on neighboring land.

 
 
 
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