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Federal News

EPA's Back-Door RFS Waiver?

DTN | Posted on April 4, 2018

The Environmental Protection Agency has opened its own "back-door waiver" to the Renewable Fuel Standard by granting retroactive exemptions to RFS obligations to more than a dozen small refiners, including some that are part of highly-profitable refining conglomerates. I smell a rat. I smell a rat," said Scott Irwin, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois who studies the Renewable Fuel Standard. In examining how EPA is granting exemptions to RFS obligations, Irwin said, "This is real and there are large uncertainty on the market impacts."Reuters reported Tuesday that Andeavor, one of the country's largest refiners, got an RFS obligation exemption for three of its smaller refineries. The RFS exemption was meant to apply to small refineries producing under 75,000 barrels a day that demonstrate economic hardship. Andeavor as a company posted $1.5 billion in profits last year, Reuters reported.

USDA Pressed on Livestock Rules

DTN | Posted on April 4, 2018

he Organization for Competitive Markets has filed a legal challenge against USDA for withdrawing a set livestock marketing rules designed to level the playing field for producers while negotiating supply contracts with larger agribusinesses. On Friday, attorneys for OCM filed a 170-page brief asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis, Missouri, to vacate USDA's actions against the rules last October. The OCM filed an appeal in February.The rules originally were drafted by the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA. In November 2017, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that as part of a USDA reorganization, the GIPSA would no longer be a standalone agency. The Packers and Stockyards Division was renamed the "Fair Trade Practices" program as part of the Agricultural Marketing Service.

Census Report Found 'Unprecedented' Fears About Privacy Last Year

City Lab | Posted on April 4, 2018

A research scientist at the Census Bureau produced a report based on unusual findings in the field. Across a number of projects and “pretests” (or training exercises) conducted between February and September 2017, bureau researchers discovered that survey respondents who were asked questions during focus groups or sample tests were behaving in unexpected ways: They were giving false names or incorrect birthdates, leaving family members out of questionnaires, or abandoning interviews before they were finished. Respondents were “spontaneously expressing concerns to researchers and field staff about confidentiality and data access relating to immigration.” The report was produced by the bureau’s Center for Survey Management for a meeting of the National Advisory Committee. Of particular concern: The report documented a rise in fear among respondents months before the prospect of adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census was officially requested by the Department of Justice.

USDA Issues Final Decision on California Federal Milk Marketing Order

USDA | Posted on April 4, 2018

The U.S. Department of Agriculture published in the Federal Register a final decision to establish a Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) for California. The proposed FMMO would incorporate the entire state of California. The final decision is based on the evidentiary record of a public hearing held in Clovis, Calif., from September to November 2015. A recommended decision regarding the proposed program was published Feb. 14, 2017. USDA will conduct a referendum among dairy producers to determine whether they support the proposed FMMO. The referendum will be held from April 2, 2018 through May 5, 2018. USDA will mail ballot materials to all known eligible dairy producers supplying milk to the proposed marketing area. The FMMO would become effective if approved by two-thirds of the voting producers, or by producers of two-thirds of the milk represented in the voting process.

Trump weighs dropping personal efforts on biofuel reform - sources

Reuters | Posted on April 4, 2018

President Donald Trump is seriously considering abandoning efforts to remake the nation’s biofuel laws after wading deep into an issue that divides some of his core constituencies, according to three sources familiar with the administration’s thinking. Advisers have urged Trump to instead let Congress tackle the biofuel reforms, but use the threat of administrative action to help rival lawmakers come together and solve the intractable issue.The U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has created reliable demand for corn farmers in the nation’s heartland, but merchant refiners like Valero Energy Corp say the costs to comply with the program have taken a huge financial toll.

17 States and Cities Have Sued the Government Over Plans to Add Census Citizenship Question

TIme | Posted on April 4, 2018

 Seventeen states, the District of Columbia and six cities sued the U.S. government Tuesday, saying the addition of a citizenship question to the census form is unconstitutional. Federal funding and congressional representation are at stake in the dispute over the Trump administration’s move to reinstate the citizenship question to the 2020 census. It would be the first time in 70 years that the government uses the form sent to every household to ask people to specify whether they are U.S. citizens. New York Attorney General Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat who announced the new lawsuit in Manhattan federal court, said the plans would have a “devastating effect on New York, where we have millions of immigrants.”“It’s unlawful. It’s unfair,” Schneiderman said at a news conference. He added that it would end a longstanding bipartisan effort to ensure the census is accurate and that the Bureau of the Census carries out its mandate to conduct a full and fair count of the population, including citizens and non-citizens.

China tariffs could help Australia gain share from US wine, nut and fruit producers

CNBC | Posted on April 3, 2018

China's tariff of up to 25 percent on U.S. agriculture could be good news for Australia's nut, wine and fruit producers. Almost 40 percent of Australia's fruit exports last year went to greater China, and Chile also is a major fruit producer that could benefit. Australia's wine exports to mainland China rose 63 percent last year, while U.S. wine exports to the world's second-largest economy were down. Beijing also imposed new tariffs on American pork, a move that could benefit the European Union, Brazil and Canada — major exporters to China

Farm BIll Law provides series of reports on Farm Bill

Farm Bill Law | Posted on April 2, 2018

The Farm BIll reports are the culmination of a year-long process by FBLE partners to study the farm bill and develop concrete recommendations that will advance shared public values.Researching, writing, and publishing these joint recommendations advances our mission to work together across disciplines toward a farm bill that meets the long-term needs of our society, including public resources stewardship, economic opportunity and stability, public health and nutrition, and fair access and equal protection under the law.Each report presents a set of recommendations along a particular theme, and every recommendation is the product of thorough research, holistic evaluation and extensive consultation among FBLE partners and with stakeholders across the food and agricultural system. Together, these reports provide a sweeping set of policy recommendations that span the entire farm bill and touch nearly every corner of the food system.

EPA staffers get talking points playing down human role in climate change

The Washington Post | Posted on March 29, 2018

Environmental Protection Agency staffers received a list of “talking points” this week instructing them to underscore the uncertainties about how human activity contributes to climate change. A career employee in the department’s Office of Public Affairs distributed the eight talking points to regional staffers. The list offered suggestions on ways to talk with local communities and Native American tribes about how to adapt to extreme weather, rising seas and other environmental challenges.Employees crafted the email, first disclosed Wednesday by HuffPost, on the basis of controversial — and scientifically unsound — statements that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has made about the current state of climate research.“Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner,” reads one of the talking points. “The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”Another states that while there has been “extensive” research and numerous reports on climate change, “clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.”

How a food stamp fight could kill the farm bill

Politico | Posted on March 28, 2018

The Trump administration and House Republicans are pushing a crackdown on food stamps, but their effort to shrink a safety net program that boomed during the Obama era might come at a great cost — derailing a massive farm bill that’s heavily supported in Trump country. Talks between House Democrats and Republicans on the farm bill broke down two weeks ago over proposed changes to the nutrition program that Democrats say would cut off an estimated 1 million participants — a bad sign for the historically bipartisan legislation. The details of the SNAP proposal remain very much under wraps, but Democratic staff members told reporters Tuesday that the bill would impose stricter work requirements on about 3 million to 5 million of the 42 million Americans who rely on the program — a number that would mostly target able-bodied adults without children, as well as millions of school-age parents who are currently exempt in many states. There are already work requirements in place for SNAP, but the vast majority of recipients are exempt because they are children, elderly or disabled.Able-bodied adults without children or other dependents are already required to participate in a training program for 20 hours per week or to work to keep their SNAP benefits longer than three months over a three-year period. However, states largely exempted this population from those time limits during the Great Recession. The waivers have been slowly lapsing as the economy recovered. But about 36 percent of the U.S. population lives in an area where that rule is still waived, and the House bill is expected to rein in that flexibility.