2014 US Congressional August Recess - Ag Issues

Posted on Jul 31, 2014

August Recess Ag Issues

Congress will begin their annual August Recess on August 1 where  Senators and Congressmen will be spending time in the state working with constituents on issues important to Kentucky agriculture.  They may be attending county fairs, holding town hall meetings, participating in county Farm Bureau annual meetings or participating in Ag Issues events where leaders will have the opportunity to promote Kentucky Farm Bureau policy on key issues.  The Kentucky Congressional delegation continues to schedule agriculture-specific events, and as those dates are confirmed they will be posted online at kyfb.com.  The August Recess will be August 1-31, but Congress will also be in recess September 1-5 for the Labor Day Recess and will be in recess October 6-31 as we near the November elections.

As we near the end of the 113th Session of Congress there are a number of Federal regulatory and legislative issues pending.  Farm Bureau leaders are encouraged to participate in local opportunities to meet with their Members of Congress and promote Farm Bureau policy on pending issues.  Key issues to address with Kentucky's delegation are listed below with a brief description and action request.

ENVIRONMENTAL

The proposed Waters of the US rule from EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers would change the regulatory environment by essentially redefining waters of the US. By circumventing the term "navigable" when determining jurisdictional boundaries and applying a significant nexus concept to tie waters through hydrological, biological or proximity connection to traditional navigable waters, the agencies could essentially expand oversight to puddles or ditches waterfowl might utilize. EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers extended the public comment period for the Waters of the US proposed rule from July 21 until October 20, 2014. The agencies have proposed a rule that would revise the definition of "waters of the United States" for all sections of the CWA.  The proposal makes significant changes to existing regulatory definitions and asserts categorical jurisdiction over certain waters that were previously subject to state authority or were subject to case-by-case determinations.  The new terms and definitions along with the agencies statement that they will use their "best professional judgment and experience" in interpreting CWA jurisdiction results in significant regulatory expansion and creates more confusion about whether certain waters are "waters of the U.S."

Farm Bureau leaders are asked to urge Congressional Members to oppose this attempt by EPA and the Corps to circumvent the intent of Congress when the Clean Water Act was passed.  The US Supreme Court in two separate judgments also reaffirmed limits on agency oversight.

Environmental issues are a priority issue for Kentucky Farm Bureau stating we "Oppose EPA exceeding legislative authority in the implementation of the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act programs. (CAFO permitting, TMDL, Hypoxia, animal waste, Pesticides NPDES permits, air quality & particulate matter, etc.)"

TAXES

Congress currently is considering a number of expired tax provisions that impact agriculture. We appreciate the House moving forward and passing provisions that would restore Section 179 levels and reinstate bonus depreciation and making those provisions permanent. However, the Senate has yet to act, and most feel action will be delayed until after the election during the Lame Duck session. So far the House has passed HR 4457 that would make permanent Section 179 small business expensing with a maximum deduction of $500,000 reduced dollar for dollar when expenditures exceed $2 million, and HR 4718 to make permanent 50 percent bonus depreciation. While the Senate is considering the same levels as the House they are looking at only a two-year extension for 2014 & 2015.

It is important Congress provide certainty on this issue and leaders are asked to urge final action on these tax issues before Congress adjourns.

Farm Bureau policy supports "Allowing at least $500,000 of expenses to be deducted under Section 179 Small Business Expensing and indexing the amount for inflation," and "Accelerated depreciation using the same methods available to non-farm businesses."

IMMIGRATION/FARM LABOR

The migrant worker program continues to be dysfunctional. It is expensive, confusing and a paperwork nightmare. Passage of comprehensive immigration reform that includes a farm labor component that will allow farmers to secure a consistent labor force is essential to meeting the growing demand for food, fiber and energy as the population grows. However, it appears comprehensive immigration reform may not be considered before the end of the 113th Congress.

Farm Bureau leaders are asked to stress the need for a temporary worker program that can meet the increasing need for farm workers.  Farm labor is a priority issue for Farm Bureau stating we  "Support reform of the H-2A program to streamline the process making it more reliable, economical and simple for farmers to participate. Reforms should include moving from the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) to Ag Prevailing Wage. Farm labor programs should be more reflective

of the unique nature of agricultural production.  Within the H-2A program we support U.S. Department of Labor approval of joint contracts among farmers, staggered dates of worker entry under a single contract, and the 50 percent rule requirement for hiring domestic workers being limited to the number of visas approved."

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

Recently US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) proposed rules that would considerably change the regulatory definitions related to "critical habitat" and "adverse modification," increasing agency discretion to designate and protect areas that do not presently contain features essential to the conservation of the species. The result of the proposed changes would cause extensive expansion of the impact of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on private lands across the United States. H.R. 4319 was introduced in response to a final rule by the USFWS in October of 2013 that deemed the economic analysis of proposed critical habitat to be a "minor" or incremental issue. Meaning the only cost is the incidental cost of federal agencies talking to each other if a given activity requires a federal permit or a land owner, private or public, is entering into a cost sharing or technical assistance agreement with a federal agency. That simply is not reality. The designation of critical habitat has a real impact on the value of private property and is frequently used by environmental groups to file litigation.

Farm Bureau leaders are urged to ask Congress to support reasonable approaches when dealing with endangered species or designation of critical habitat.  Ask your Congressman to support H.R. 4319.  Farm Bureau policy states that "The US Army Corps of Engineers, or any federal or state agencies should pursue alternative means to address endangered species concerns such as establishment of voluntary critical habitats," and "We believe that endangered and threatened species protection can be more effectively achieved by providing incentives to private landowners and public land users rather than imposing land use restrictions and penalties."

FOOD LABELING

As the population continues to grow, and arable lands decrease, farmers will need to utilize enhanced technologies and management practices to produce more on less land. One of the tools in the technology toolbox is the use of genetically modified (GMO) crop varieties developed through biotech development. Currently about 70 percent of world crop production utilizes crop varieties with biotech developed traits. This has created controversy in both domestic and international markets surrounding the safety of such crops and how they should be labeled. Increased trade contributes to better marketing opportunities for our producers but if US producers are shut out of markets because of anti-GMO or labeling restrictions the world population will not have an adequate supply of food. There is a lot of emotion surrounding the biotech issue, but sound science must remain the basis by which food safety is determined, not emotion or political agenda.  H.R. 4432, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 , would require FDA to develop and implement standards for the voluntary labeling of food products that contain GMOs, and for food products that do not contain GMOs.  The legislation would also preempt state laws that mandate labeling of food products that contain GMOs.

Farm Bureau leaders are urged to ask Members of Congress to avoid emotional arguments for labeling food items and rely instead on sound science as the criteria for determining food safety.

Farm Bureau policy states that US policies affecting agriculture should be designed to "Continue to improve the environment through expanded incentives to encourage voluntary soil conservation, water and air quality programs, and advanced technological and biotechnological procedures that are based on sound science and are economically feasible," and "We support initiatives that assist in the research, development and regulatory clearance of specialty crop biotechnology products. U.S. government agencies, particularly the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), should continue to serve their respective roles in providing unbiased, scientifically based evaluations concerning the human and animal safety and wholesomeness, as well as the environmental impacts of biotechnology-enhanced commodities."   Farm Bureau policy opposes "Individual states establishing separate policies on agricultural biotechnology, labeling, identification, use and availability."


Tagged Post Topics Include: Action Alert, Congress, Endangered Species Act, Environmental, Farm labor, Food Labeling, Immigration, Taxes