Washington Insider -- Monday

Chesapeake Cleanup to Miss Targets

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

Sen. Stabenow: 'Progress' on GMO Labeling But No Deal Yet

Work continues on developing legislation to address GMO labeling and "progress" is being made even if parties involved are not yet at the point of having a final plan, according the Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

"It sounds boring to say the same thing over and over again, but the truth is we're working really hard and narrowing the issues and making good progress," Stabenow told reporters June 16.

One of the keys is on-package information, something which remains a major issue in the matter given the push by some, including Stabenow, for national, on-package information. "That's what we've got on the table, we need to do something that's a national requirement so consumers have access to information and we want to give some choices to do that," Stabenow said.

But a portion of the food industry, including the group of food and ag industry organizations in the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food (CSAF), continues to back a voluntary approach.

"The Senate may be close on a GMO labeling solution, but close is not enough," Grocery Manufacturers Association CEO Pamela Bailey said in a teleconference with food industry groups. She and other members of the CSAF warned of the "devastating impact" if Congress fails to act.

“Failure by Congress to pass a bill to stop Vermont's on-pack GMO labeling mandate will irreparably and irreversibly change the face of American agriculture,” American Soybean Association CEO Steve Censky stated. He also expressed his worry over the potential long-term impacts if nothing is done. "Really the thing that concerns me as an agriculturalist and one that represents farmers is that this really has a chilling and negative impact on the tech that will hurt not only farmers and consumers, but mankind down the road," he stated.

How GMO information should appear on food packaging and whether labeling should be voluntary or mandatory are the issues that Stabenow and Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R., Kan., continue to wrestle with, Stabenow said.

Neither Stabenow nor Roberts are reporting details of the talks, but the on-package labeling issue remains a key to any deal.

Commerce Dept. Reviewing U.S.-Mexico Sugar Trade Suspension Accord

Officials from both the U.S. and Mexico have questioned each other in recent months regarding the operation of the U.S.-Mexico sugar trade suspension agreement worked out previously between the two countries.

Volume quotas could change for sugar imports from Mexico if the Commerce Department decides to adjust trade agreements covering these issues, contacts advise. But Mexico officials want answers regarding how the U.S. made some recent sugar announcement because they think the U.S. did not follow terms of the accord, sources inform.

Commerce is evaluating whether to adjust agreements that suspend dumping and countervailing duty probes on Mexican sugar imports. No duties will be collected as long as the suspension pacts with Mexican exporters stay in effect.

U.S. government and some sugar industry sources believe Mexico has made some end-arounds that have impacted the U.S. sugar markets. The Commerce Department is evaluating whether and to what extent the agreements may need to be adjusted to account for the concerns raised by some U.S. sugar industry participants.

Washington Insider: Chesapeake Cleanup to Miss Targets

Bloomberg reported this week that progress on the Chesapeake Bay cleanup likely will miss current targets, mainly because Pennsylvania is falling short in efforts to reduce nitrogen. The State’s problems are responsible for the majority of a 10 million pound shortfall in the bay's nitrogen reduction goals for 2017, federal environmental regulators reported last week.

Almost 90% of the projected 2017 nitrogen gap is from Pennsylvania, although some 11% is from New York, David Sternberg, spokesman for the U.S. EPA told Bloomberg last week. The news came as part of a regional checkup EPA runs every two years to help states assess how they are doing in meeting their short-term milestones on the way to 2025 Chesapeake Bay water quality goals.

Observers note that the milestones are seen as ambitious and that States and cities surrounding the bay didn't achieve their overall target in nitrogen reduction for 2015, either. However, the good news is that they did meet goals for phosphorus and sediment reduction that year, according to the EPA's most recent two-year assessment report.

“There's a recognition that Pennsylvania got off track,” Shawn Garvin, EPA's Region 3 administrator, reported during a conference call about the progress that Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia made in 2014 and 2015. Still, the shortfall means that it is unlikely the bay as a whole will meet its watershed-wide 2017 reduction targets for nitrogen either, although most states in the region are on track to meet 2017 reduction goals for phosphorus and sediment, the EPA found.

The 2017 targets are set at 60% of the load reduction that the bay hopes to achieve by 2025. At this time, the bay is currently on track to achieve only 46% of the load in nitrogen by 2017, the EPA said.

Overall, the region is on target for reducing nitrogen in wastewater but not from agriculture or urban and suburban stormwater, the EPA said.

Pennsylvania’s problems are not new, and the state has consistently failed to meet its bay clean-up goals over the last three two-year milestone assessments, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), an independent conservation group dedicated to saving the bay, and now the Bay’s partners in the cleanup effort are not reticent in pointing fingers. Officials took pains to note that the problems are mainly with a single state, and that they are dragging down the effort for the region.

The region’s overall shortfall in efforts to meet its 2017 nitrogen goals comes “largely as a result of Pennsylvania's failure to reduce pollution from agriculture,” CBF President William C. Baker reported. “It is well past time for Pennsylvania to accelerate its pollution-reduction efforts and EPA must do more to ensure that Pennsylvania obeys the law.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says it is working with the state's Department of Agriculture, the Department of Conservation and National Resources, the State Conservation Commission and others to accelerate bay cleanup efforts, DEP spokesman Neil Shader told Bloomberg last week.

However, it will also continue to look for new ways to reduce pollution as part of its “reboot” strategy to clean up the bay “after years of inaction by state leaders,” Shader said. The state’s reboot strategy is a “good first step” that reflects a renewed commitment to Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, Garvin said, although the ultimate success of the plan hinges on how well the state implements it.

There is a great deal riding on the Foundation’s clean-up efforts. The Bay is a high-priority recreational asset in a largely urban region that has been heavily polluted over a long period of time. And, to the extent that agricultural operations are tagged with undercutting clean-up efforts, the Compact seems willing to consider intrusive steps to reach agreed-on goals.

So, it will be important to watch carefully the steps the region takes to press Pennsylvania’s “roboot” efforts as it works to put Pennsylvania and the region back on the track to accomplish clean-up goals, Washington Insider believes.

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