For The Week Ending June 27, 2014

 

EPA QUESTIONED ABOUT ‘WATERS OF THE U.S.’ RULE AT OVERSIGHT HEARING

At a Wednesday hearing on the U.S. Environmental Protection, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee member Doug Collins, R-Ga., questioned EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy about the agency’s proposed Clean Water Act (CWA) rule. The regulation would expand EPA’s jurisdiction over waterways by redefining the term “waters of the U.S.” to include intermittent and ephemeral streams, action that would cover agricultural areas. An accompanying interpretive rule lists 56 agricultural conservation practices that would be exempt from the so-called Waters of the U.S. proposed rule. Collins asked McCarthy if farmers would be required to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service standards to be exempt from the proposed CWA rule and to avoid being fined. The administrator said farmers would not be forced to meet the standards. NPPC, which has a number of concerns with the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule, will be submitting comments on the regulation by the Oct. 21 deadline.

 

HOUSE PASSES CFTC REAUTHORIZATION BILL

The House Tuesday passed on a 265-144 vote H.R. 4413, the “Customer Protection and End-User Relief Act,” to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) for five years. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said on the House floor the bill would better safeguard farmers and ranchers who use the futures markets by including new regulatory provisions that were prompted by the MF Global debacle. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., applauded the House for passing the bill but also said the legislation offers no additional funding and increases administrative burdens for CFTC. Last Wednesday, NPPC was one of more than 30 agricultural organizations that sent a joint letter to House lawmakers, urging them to pass the bill, which includes protections for agricultural futures customers. NPPC also worked closely with other agricultural organizations to prevent a provision that would have required producers to “pre-fund” margin call accounts.

 

HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING FOCUSES ON CREDIT AVAILABILITY IN RURAL AREAS

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Rural Development, and Credit Wednesday held a hearing on credit availability in rural America. Brought into question was whether agriculture is the primary client of the Farm Credit System (FCS) given that the agency made a substantial loan to Verizon Communications in 2013. Lawmakers also raised concerns about the size of FCS and, because of it, the government-supported agency competing with commercial banks. There have been claims that FCS uses its size to offer significantly better rates than smaller, private-sector competitors. Farm Credit Administration Board Chair and CEO Jill Long Thompson said predatory pricing is taken seriously, but competitive pricing does not equal predatory pricing. Sean Williams, testifying on behalf of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said he could provide 30 examples in the past three years where his bank lost borrowers to FCS solely because of the agency’s lower rates. Williams said small bankers are not afraid of competition; they just want a level playing field. Click here to read testimonies and watch the hearing.

 

COALITION SENDS LETTER TO AG COMMITTEE LEADERSHIP ON WTO COOL CASE

In a letter sent this week to leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees, the COOL Reform Coalition, a group of 61 food and agricultural organizations, including NPPC, expressed its concern over the pending outcome of a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling on the U.S. Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) in a case brought to the WTO court by Canada and Mexico. The decision by the WTO dispute settlement panel is expected to be delivered to the parties soon. The coalition fears that a final WTO determination that the COOL regulation violates U.S. international trade obligations likely will have a negative effect on the U.S. economy. The letter explains that such a decision by the WTO would authorize Canada and Mexico to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods, including agriculture products, restricting exports and ultimately killing U.S. jobs. Canada, the second largest export market for U.S. agricultural products valued at $21.3 billion in 2012, already has issued a draft retaliation list that includes fresh pork and beef, bakery goods, rice, apples, wine, maple syrup and furniture. Mexico, which is the third largest export market for U.S. agriculture totaling $18.0 billion in 2013, is threatening to suspend preferential tariffs for a variety of produce items, meat, dairy products and other commodities. Such retaliation would be similar to the tariffs applied on pork and many other products by Mexico a few years ago during the NAFTA trucking dispute. Mexico and Canada were, respectively, the second and fourth largest export markets by value for U.S. pork in 2013, with sales totaling $1.22 billion and $844 million. The coalition urged Congress to consider suspending the COOL regulation indefinitely should the WTO rule in favor of Canada and Mexico.

 

WHAT’S AHEAD

 

CONGRESS, CAPITAL UPDATE TAKE BREAK

With Congress on recess next week for Independence Day, the next edition of Capital Update will be issued July 11.

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