Washington Insider-- Tuesday

Last Minute Rules Controversies

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

CRS Report Raises Question On Need For Additional Ag Aid

While Congress approved another round of aid to U.S. farmers via what is expected to be the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 3 (CFAP 3) effort, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in a report at least raises the question as to whether such payments are needed.

The report, released December 21, raised the issue of whether most producers need another round of coronavirus relief aid. It noted that most major crop and livestock commodities “have seen their prices increase substantially” since July because of improving market conditions, with the exceptions of beef cattle and dairy.

“If current market conditions were to persist into the first half of 2021, it would appear that price declines would be a possible reason for a new round of CFAP payments for livestock and dairy, but not for row crops,” the report said.

While prices for several commodities have improved and continue to have potential for additional increases, U.S. farmers have burned through a considerable amount of capital in dealing with trade-related and COVID-related market impacts. That has left many U.S. farmers in more of a cash-flow bind. While the CFAP payments have helped, producers have not been made whole by those dollars.

APHIS Seeks To Develop Information From Labs On Testing Of Animals For COVID-19

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is seeking public comment on developing an information request from labs that test animals for COVID-19.

“To better meet its reporting requirements about emerging diseases to the OIE [World Organization for Animal Health], APHIS is interested in collecting information as to the detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in animals,” APHIS said in a Federal Register notice. “To accomplish this, APHIS will distribute a request for information to U.S. laboratories engaged in the testing of animals for SARS-CoV-2, develop a questionnaire in NAHRS [National Animal Health Reporting System], and request that state animal health officials and U.S. laboratories provide SARS-CoV-2 animal testing data on a monthly basis.”

The agency said it estimates the information collection will average 1.72 hours per response or a total of 1,626 hours. APHIS said the information gathered will be included in a request to approve the effort which will be made to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).


Washington Insider: Last Minute Rules Controversies

During the “wind down” phase, administrations often propose unusual rules that would be at least somewhat unlikely at other times. This week, the Washington Post is reporting that the White House is preparing to temporarily freeze some foreign aid during the President's final days in office — slowing down funds already approved by Congress.

The administration can't unilaterally cancel the funding, but it can “bog the process down” by asking Congress to claw the money back. Lawmakers will likely reject this request, but the act of asking Congress to recoup the money allows the White House to freeze it until the president leaves office on Jan. 20.

The president has long complained about U.S. taxpayer money going to other countries, but Congress has repeatedly blocked him from doing anything about it.

While official details on the proposal are scarce, U.S. foreign aid officials had been expecting some sort of effort by the White House to freeze their funding, ever since President Trump blasted the bipartisan coronavirus stimulus and spending bill passed by Congress last week. In a surprise video statement, he criticized aid going to Cambodia, Myanmar, Egypt, Pakistan and Central America, among other programs.

President Donald Trump signed the bill into law, but then issued a statement saying he would demand “many rescissions” under the Impoundment Control Act, which allows the president to temporarily freeze certain funding after sending a notice to Congress on the amount of the proposed rescission and the reasons for it. If Congress does not pass legislation approving the rescission within 45 days, the funds are unfrozen and must be spent as Congress originally intended.

The 45-day clock runs only when Congress is in session so the administration will be able to freeze the funds only through Jan. 20, when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Trump officials, which had repeatedly tried to cut foreign aid in its formal budgets only to be rebuffed by Congress, have used the rescission process as a tool to make it harder for the State Department and USAID to spend money. Last year, it attempted to cancel up to $4 billion in foreign aid, but scrapped the plan after facing opposition from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

In another “end of administration report” The Hill is reporting that the White House appears to have concluded its review of EPA's controversial “secret science” rule — which is expected to limit the types of scientific research the agency can consider in its rulemaking process. The OMB website lists the rule's review as concluded this week.

The rule, which EPA has billed as a transparency measure, is criticized by some as an effort to limit the agency's ability to consider studies that don't make their underlying data public. Critics argue that this rule could cause the agency to exclude important research like landmark public health studies that can't release participants' information.

An agency spokesperson declined to say whether the rule had been finalized and signed by Administrator Andrew Wheeler, saying “we have nothing to announce at this time” in an email to The Hill.

“The American public deserve transparency and access to data that determine regulatory decisions and in a way that protects the privacy of individuals and other confidential information,” the spokesman said.

He also declined to say whether there were significant changes to the rule, which has been nicknamed the “secret science” rule since a version of it was proposed in March.

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, criticized the rule as “just one last gasp of science denial. Amid an ongoing public health crisis—a time when accessing the latest scientific research and embracing scientific advancements is a critical function of protecting human health — the Trump EPA is trying to limit the use of scientific data.”

The rule also received pushback from the EPA's own Science Advisory Board earlier this year. “There is minimal justification provided in the proposed rule for why existing procedures and norms utilized across the U.S. scientific community, including the federal government, are inadequate, and how the proposed rule will improve transparency and the scientific integrity of the regulatory outcomes in an effective and efficient manner,” the SAB wrote in a report.

“It is plausible that in some situations, the proposed rule will decrease efficiency and reduce scientific integrity,” it added.

The March proposal was an altered version of the rule which was first pushed under then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. The updated version expanded the scope of the rule to include agency activities beyond just rulemaking. In the newer version, the agency also wouldn't entirely exclude studies that don't publicize their data, but would give preference to studies that do make their data publicly available.

The rule is one of several being pushed through by the administration during its final days. It has recently finalized an airline emissions regulation, reviews of air quality standards and changes to a lead contamination rule, The Hill said.

So, we will see. Clearly, the current transition is a tension filled moment involving many bitter controversies — debates and battles that producers should watch closely as the process enters its final moments, Washington Insider believes.

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