Washington Insider -- Wednesday

Farm Bill Reduces Endangered Species Protections

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

Sen. Schumer Calls On USTR to Get Changes in Canada Dairy Policy

The U.S. needs to secure "meaningful concessions from Canada to provide stable market access for our dairy producers," according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

With reports indicating that a NAFTA 2.0 agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico may be at hand in coming weeks, Schumer urged Lighthizer to "not miss this opportunity to protect our dairy producers from Canada's recent predatory trade practices."

He cited Canada's Class 7 milk pricing scheme as one example and urged for it to be dismantled via the NAFTA 2.0 talks. "This Class 7 system is likely a violation of Canada’s World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments, but addressing it quickly through NAFTA renegotiation is needed, rather than waiting for years for a WTO determination," Schumer said.

China Hits U.S. Sorghum with Hefty Preliminary Antidumping Duties

Sorghum shipments to China will be subject to a preliminary antidumping duty of 178.6 percent, effective April 18, according to an announcement from China's Ministry of Commerce.

The agency announced the "temporary antidumping measure" after launching a anti-subsidy and antidumping investigations February 4. The preliminary duty announced by China meets its WTO commitments and is line with WTO rules, a Commerce Ministry statement said, noting the preliminary results of the investigation determined China's sorghum industry was "substantially damaged" by the imports of U.S. sorghum.

"China is willing to expand cooperation with the United States to narrow differences in the trade field and jointly safeguard the overall situation of Sino-US economic and trade cooperation," the ministry said. Preliminary results of the anti-subsidy investigation are yet to be released and there is no timeline for that to happen or a final determination on the antidumping situation.

Washington Insider: Farm Bill Reduces Endangered Species Protections

Well, it seems the current House farm bill draft is getting more controversial day by day. For example, in addition to proposed changes to the nutrition programs, the draft bill includes a provision that would allow EPA to approve pesticides without undertaking reviews now required to protect endangered species.

As expected, environmental groups are up in arms and argue that the provision is an “unprecedented” attack that could have lasting ramifications for ecosystems across the nation.

Their concern is that the bill would allow the EPA to skip consultations with agencies that include the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which oversee the implementation of Endangered Species Act protections.

“This removes the requirement to bring in the expert agencies,” said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program. She said it would gut protections for endangered species.

In a December 2017 report, the National Marine Fisheries Service said pesticides like chlorpyrifos, malathion, and diazinon threaten a number of marine animals, including some that are protected, as well as the predators that prey on them.

“Current application rates and application methods are expected to produce aquatic concentrations of all three pesticides that are likely to harm aquatic species as well as contaminate their designated critical habitats,” the report said, adding that species and their prey that live in shallow waters close to pesticide use sites are expected to be most at risk.

“It’s a poison-pill rider in the most literal and unfortunate way,” said Jordan Giaconia, federal policy associate for defense at the Sierra Club. It takes just one harmful chemical to be injected into the ecosystem to cause widespread damage, he said. “The ramifications are pretty far reaching.”

Some types of protected salmon, butterflies and all kinds of pollinators could be harmed by toxic pesticides applied without proper review, advocates worry.

But Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee see the language as a “commonsense reforms” to an “onerous and conflicting” consultation process that needs to be modernized, according to a summary provided by the panel’s majority.

“We're trying to streamline that process,” House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, told the press. “EPA doesn't have the resources to do a species-by-species deal, so we're trying to figure out a way to protect species, but also being able to get the crop protection things [pesticides] in place. The current system works to the advantage of people who don't want anything to happen.”

The committee is scheduled to mark up the bill today.

If the bill passes with the pesticide provision, it would be a victory for agriculture trade groups that have pushed hard in recent months for the language to be included in the five-year farm bill, and for chemical manufacturers that have petitioned for less-stringent pesticide regulations.

More than 60 agriculture groups in January wrote a letter urging Agriculture Committee leaders to include the provision in the bill, saying the current review and permitting requirements are “redundant” and provide no additional environmental benefit, but instead impose additional costs on farms and businesses.

Environmentalists, however, see parallels between the language in the measure, the lobbying efforts by the chemical industries and actions of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the provisions “essentially codify” a request by Dow Chemical for Pruitt to ignore the harmful effects of pesticides on endangered species and to gut their protections.

In April 2017, Wiley Rein LLP, a law firm that represents several chemical companies, including Dow AgroSciences LLC; Makhteshim Agan of North America Inc., and FMC Corp., wrote to the Trump administration asking it to disregard an EPA report that had concluded that certain pesticides would be harmful to imperiled species. The letter was sent to the Commerce Department, the EPA, the Interior Department and the Agriculture Department.

The EPA in January 2017, at the end of the Obama administration, released a report that found that pesticides like chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion could harm endangered species near and around where they were applied.

In March 2017, under newly the confirmed Pruitt, the EPA scuttled a process initiated by the Obama administration to ban the use of chlorpyrifos, a known neurotoxin that has been found to be harmful to farm workers and has been linked to development issues in newborn babies. The pesticide, which is banned for residential use and on tomatoes, is still widely used in farming of other vegetables and fruits.

While both Democrats and Republicans agree that the statute is due for an overhaul, they remain at odds over its implementation, which the GOP views as burdensome to farmers, loggers and businesses. Democrats and conservationists view the statute as the most important action ever taken to protect imperiled plants and animals.

Conservationists worry that not only would the language in the farm bill harm protected species, it would also allow chemical manufactures to dodge liability for the damage done by their products to those imperiled animals and plants.

So, this is a fight that has been building for some time, and which has important implications for both producers and conservationists. It should be watched closely as it proceeds, Washington Insider believes.

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