Top Policy Initiatives in Washington D.C. for the Week of September 12, 2016
House Agriculture Committee Addresses Outdated Packers and Stockyards Act
This week, the House Agriculture Committee approved H.R. 5883, legislation to modernize the Packers and Stockyards Act. Enacted in 1921, the Packers and Stockyards Act is intended to protect buyers and sellers of livestock from unfair, deceptive, and discriminatory practices.
Having not been revised in decades, Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC), chairman of the Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee, introduced H.R. 5883, to expand the definition of “marketing agency” to include video and online auctions and update acceptable payment methods to include electronic transfer of funds, ensuring the legislation keeps up with the latest technologies available as our industry and modern banking continues to evolve.
Sage Grouse Provision Key for Western Producers
Work continues in Washington, D.C., on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY17. The House-passed version of the bill includes a provision blocking implementation of Federal management plans for the greater sage grouse over ongoing successful management of the species by Western states, livestock producers, and others. As the conferees work through the various issues contained in this year’s version of the “must pass” legislation, it’s clear that House leadership is working hard to keep the provisions in place and protect producers.
Efforts are now focused on the Senate, and in particular Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Despite documented impacts to military training exercises at installations like Yakima Training Center in Washington State, not to mention the impact of the plans on rural western economies, Senator McCain continues to resist inclusion of this critical language. Senators from around the West will continue to press this case with McCain through the fall in order to ensure this important legislation crosses the finish line intact.
Senate Agriculture Committee Holds Hearing on CFTC Commissioner Nominations
Today the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing to consider the nominations of Dr. Christopher Brummer and Brian Quintenz to serve as Commissioners of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
The CFTC is charged with fostering open, transparent, competitive, and financially sound markets, to avoid systemic risk, and to protect the market users and their funds, consumers, and the public from fraud, manipulation, and abusive practices related to derivatives and other products that are subject to the Commodity Exchange Act. The Commission is comprised of five Commissioners nominated by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Currently, there are two Commissioner vacancies at the CFTC. Senator Pat Roberts, chairman on the Senate Agriculture Committee, opened the hearing by stressing the charge of the CFTC Commissioner.
“As noted by the CFTC’s own mission statement: Farmers, ranchers, producers, commercial companies (or end-users), municipalities, pension funds and others use markets to lock in a price or a rate and focus on what they do best – innovating, producing goods and services for the economy, and creating jobs,” said Roberts. “It is essential that the CFTC have individuals in charge that truly take that mission statement to heart, as the innovation and hard work of our farmers and ranchers seems to have been forgotten in recent years.”
Chairman Roberts continued and highlighted the impact the CFTC has on the agriculture industry.
“Many of us here raised concerns when Dodd-Frank was being considered and insisted that the legislation should not negatively impact those who had nothing to do with the causes of the 2008 crisis, and it is important to note that this was a bipartisan concern. Yet, when Dodd-Frank became law, and the CFTC began writing new regulations, it is in fact our farmers, our ranchers, our county grain elevator managers who felt the heavy hand of over-regulation come down on them,” said Roberts. “It is clear that Congress should not withhold needed regulatory relief for our farmers, ranchers, and risk management service providers any longer. Nor should the CFTC. The CFTC must look through the lens of regulatory practicality – not the lens of regulatory irrationality.”
Now that the CFTC is close to being fully staffed, the Commission will have the man-power and time to investigate critical issues that impact the cattle industry, like volatility in the marketplace.
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Sides with Producers in EPA Release of Information
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency abused its discretion in disclosing farm information from producers across the country. In a long running dispute, EPA in early 2013 released the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and GPS coordinates of concentrated animal feeding operations from more than 30 states to environmental activist groups through a Freedom of Information Request. These groups included Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources
Following objections by NCBA and other producer groups, EPA reviewed the information on over 80,000 facilities and concluded they had released too much information and requested the return of the electronic documents. Despite this effort, the harm had already been done and the farm information had been disseminated to many activist groups beyond the three groups that made the FOIA request.
In the case brought against EPA by American Farm Bureau and National Pork Producers Council, the Court validated the concerns of producers across the country by determining that EPA abused its discretion in releasing personal information of farmers and ranchers and directed the Agency to refrain from future releases of such information. The Court concluded that “the EPA’s disclosure of spreadsheets containing personal information about owners of CAFOs would invade a substantial privacy interest of the owners while furthering little in the way of public interest that is cognizable under FOIA.”
While this decision cannot recapture the information already released, it does effectively prevent EPA from releasing further private producer information. The case will be remanded to the district court for further proceedings.
Senate Passes Water Resources Development Act with Key Provisions for Agriculture
The U.S. Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act today with an amendment containing an exemption for animal feed products regulated by the EPA’s Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure rule. The bill passed by the Senate will bring much-needed regulatory relief for small and medium sized farms and livestock producers across the country who store oil, or oil products, at their operations.
The amendment to the bill championed by Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) would wholly exempt animal feed storage tanks from the SPCC rule, both in terms of aggregate storage and single-tank storage. Additionally, it exempts up to 2,000 gallons of storage capacity on remote or separate parcels of land as long as those tanks are not larger than 1,000 gallons each.
“When it comes to preventing spills from on-farm fuel storage, producers already have every incentive in the world,” said Senator Fischer. “We live on this land. Our families drink this water.”
In May 2014, Congress acted to ease the burden by exempting producers who had up to 6,000 gallons of aboveground storage and no single tank with a capacity of 10,000 gallons or more. However, that legislation neglected to fully exempt animal feed storage from the SPCC rule. Senator Fischer’s amendment provides that critical relief to our nation’s livestock producers.
The legislation must now be considered and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Beltway Beef is a weekly report from Washington, D.C., giving an up-to-date summary of top policy initiatives; direct from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association