Washington Insider - Thursday

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

States Ask For Full Sixth Circuit to Review WOTUS Venue Ruling

A hearing before the full U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, was requested by 13 states litigating the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, after a three-judge panel decided that the circuit court, and not district court, had jurisdiction over the matter.

The decision over proper venue for WOTUS challenges merits a full Circuit, “en banc”, review because of disagreement among the three-judge panel, differences with other Circuit court rulings, as well as a decision by a U.S. District Court Judge in North Dakota, the states contend in their brief.

A nationwide stay is currently in place over implementation of the WOTUS rule. The stay was imposed by the Sixth Circuit ahead of a determination over the proper jurisdictional venue for WOTUS challenges, under the Clean Water Act (CWA).


Freight Rail Shippers in Northeast Worried About New Jersey Transit Service

A threatened strike by New Jersey Transit (NJT) service workers could cause problems for freight railroads that use NJT tracks, potentially causing some disruption to service for rail customers along those routes.

Labor talks could end in a walkout as early as Sunday – a 90-day “cooling-off” period was implemented in December, but runs out at 12:01 a.m. ET March 13. Negotiations are expected to resume on Thursday. Norfolk Southern Corp., CSX Corp. and a smaller line, Morristown & Erie Railway (M&E), are watching the situation closely. NJT’s workers last had a rail strike in 1983, which lasted 34 days.

Big carriers can likely re-route trains, but the smaller M&E would have difficulty doing so.

Comments by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted a strike would “cripple” the area’s freight trains which carry products on the same rails used by New Jersey Transit. They include:

· Bayway Refinery would shut down. This refinery, the second largest on the east coast, converts crude oil that comes through the port into gasoline, jet fuel and heating oil that is then transported to customers up and down the east coast. Bayway is also a major producer of plastics, but without the ability to move goods, workers will be left with nothing to do.

· Hazardous materials could be sitting — illegally — in rail cars.

· Restarting freight movement will take two to three times longer than the strike itself.

Rail workers totaling about 4,200 have been working without a new contract since 2011. The unions have proposed wage increases of about 17% over six and a half years, with workers contributing part of their pay, up to 2.5%, toward health coverage. Agency officials have said the unions’ demands would amount to higher costs of about $183 million and could require fare increases.


Washington Insider: Raw Milk and Disease Outbreaks in California

Food Safety News (FSN) is reporting this week that a new fight over unpasteurized milk seems to be brewing in California where officials are linking January E. coli outbreaks to unpasteurized raw milk from Organic Pastures Dairy Co. They say they base their finding on lab analyses that show the victims’ infections match a “very unusual” type of E. coli found at the dairy and in its products.

Ten people, mostly children, are confirmed to have been infected with the bacteria, according to the California Department of Public Health. “Of the nine that were interviewed, six reported consuming Organic Pastures Dairy Co. brand raw milk prior to illness onset. Three denied known raw milk exposure,” the state reported, adding that a 10th person was not interviewed.

The case is attracting considerable attention because the patients are primarily children, with a median age of eight years. Four were hospitalized, including two children with hemolytic uremic syndrome, FSN said.

Another reason the case is attracting attention is that it is being contested by the founder and CEO of the 500-cow, organic dairy operation in Fresno who calls the state’s information “incorrect.” He argues that he interviewed the victims and their parents and that California officials were “wrong about the number of sick people and whether any of them developed HUS,” which can result in kidney failure, FSN said.

The dairy owner also argues that the batch of Organic Pastures unpasteurized raw milk linked to the outbreak “was because of an infection inside one cow’s udder and represents the first time in history that such an infection has been seen.” He says the dairy isolated the cow, Cow 149, and is now doing 20 tests a day as part of a stepped up food safety program at Organic Pastures.

California inspectors reported they had collected samples from equipment and surfaces at the dairy, as well as soil, water, cow feces on Feb. 8, several days after the implicated cow had been removed from the herd. They reported that, “It is unlikely that the positive findings from Feb. 8, 2016, represent conditions linked entirely to Cow 149.

And, the inspectors concluded that “the isolation of E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli from cattle used to produce raw milk for human consumption is concerning and could result in additional illness to raw milk consumers in the future if not addressed at the dairy.”

So, the debate over raw milk regulation continues, driven by consumers who argue that raw milk and associated products are healthier and taste better, even as most public officials support pasteurization and consider the pathogen risk associated drinking raw milk to be unacceptable.

Agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, and other regulatory agencies around the world say that pathogens from raw milk, including potentially tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid, and streptococcal infections, make it unsafe to consume.

So, while most public health officials oppose consumption of raw milk, consumer networks often use complex distribution schemes to sell directly from farms, or other arrangements, so significant quantities of raw milk continue to be consumed in the United States.

The California story comes out as Associated Press reports some West Virginia lawmakers and staffers became sick after drinking raw milk to celebrate a law loosening restrictions on the product. Now West Virginia health officials are investigating whether the milk was to blame for their fever, vomiting and diarrhea, and weighing allegations the raw-milk party broke the law.

At the same time, health officials regularly argue that the fact that a large proportion of the victims in milk-related disease outbreaks are children makes the need to regulate its distribution especially urgent. Nevertheless, the fight continues, especially since several states now have loosened rules to allow some raw milk sales in recent years. Thus, it will be important for producers to follow the results of this case which seems likely to lead to strongly contested legal battles as the controversy continues, Washington Insider believes.

Want to keep up with events in Washington and elsewhere throughout the day? See DTN Top Stories, our frequently updated summary of news developments of interest to producers. You can find DTN Top Stories in DTN Ag News, which is on the Main Menu on classic DTN products and on the News and Analysis Menu of DTN’s Professional and Producer products. DTN Top Stories is also on the home page and news home page of online.dtn.com. Subscribers of MyDTN.com should check out the US Ag Policy, US Farm Bill and DTN Ag News sections on their News Homepage.

If you have questions for DTN Washington Insider, please email edit@dtn.com