Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.
House Clears Immigration Measures, But Senate Outlook Uncertain
The House approved to bills to address immigration issues, approving one that would provide a path to citizenship for around 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, including those referred to as “Dreamers” (came to U.S. before the age of 19 before January 1, 2021), on a vote of 228 to 197. Nine Republicans voted in favor of the bill.
A second measure won passage 247 to 174 and would provide a path to citizenship for farmworkers in the country illegally and their family members, with 30 Republicans voting for the bill. The farm worker measure was approved by the House in 2019 but was not acted on by the Senate.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act provides for some agricultural workers in the country illegally to receive a temporary legal status if they have worked at least 180 days in the last two years. The bill would also modernize the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program, making year-round H-2A visas available for the first time. But the outlook remains uncertain as the measures face steep odds in the evenly divided Senate. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., noted that Democrats control the White House and Senate.
"With a Democratic majority in the Senate and President Biden in the White House, when we pass it again it is with better assurance that it will become law,” Pelosi said. But Republicans are becoming increasingly opposed to any new immigration measure, a situation accented by the worsening situation at the U.S. southern border.
The U.S. is on pace to see the largest number of migrants crossing into the country illegally in two decades, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday.
Vilsack Again Signals Continuation of Food Box Effort With Changes
Food and nutrition programs remain a focal point for USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, including the Farmers to Families Food Box Program (FFFBP) launched by the Trump administration during the pandemic.
The agency will hold listening sessions on the FFFBP to determine what worked and what did not work, he told an Anti-Hunger Policy Conference Wednesday. The aim of the listening session is to develop adjustments to the program to make sure as it is “is refashioned, and redesigned, if you will, [and] it's done in a way that provides the greatest amount of help to the most people.”
He also touted increases in benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition-related efforts at USDA.
This is more evidence that the FFFBP will continue under the Biden administration which is not surprising given the popularity of the program and creating a closer link between farmers and consumers. As with any new government program, actual implementation often brings changes or tweaks, but the underlying concept is fully expected to continue.
Washington Insider: Climate Change and the Banks
Bloomberg reported late last week that the new administration is considering ways to push the global finance industry into consistently accounting for carbon dioxide emissions and green investments.
The report said that the Treasury Department and U.S. regulators are in the early stages of working on measures to improve companies' disclosure of their environmental impact. The moves seek to address carbon leakage — situations where producers move to regions with less restrictive pollution rules — and climate-related metrics for Environmental, Social and Governance-based investing, Bloomberg said.
Part of the effort would include recommendations being crafted by the SEC for companies to report their environmental impact, the report noted.
The intent is to boost demand for assets that tackle climate change, while preventing companies from making claims that could be considered “greenwashing,” or overstating the significance of emissions reductions and sustainability efforts.
Bloomberg also noted that there are already several industry-driven initiatives to establish a set of rules for green finance. But experts warn that without strong government oversight the industry could settle on looser standards that allow firms to continue supporting carbon-intensive activities while using cheap offsets to claim they're doing what's needed to slow global warming.
Both the Treasury and the Securities and Exchange Commission refused Bloomberg's request for comment on the report. However, the SEC announced last week that it would solicit public comment on potential changes to policies governing climate disclosure, including whether it should set different standards for various industries and whether investors should have a say in what specific corporations have to reveal.
Gary Gensler -- the administration's nominee to lead the SEC currently awaiting Senate confirmation -- would be responsible for implementing any changes to companies' disclosure requirements.
Wall Street banks such as Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions. That requires a focus on cutting emissions first, before using offsets to neutralize any pollution that still remains. Doing so usually requires costly structural changes, Bloomberg said.
President Joe Biden is pushing for the U.S. to take more aggressive climate action. He's expected to announce a 2030 pollution reduction goal next month that will align with efforts to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 C (2.7 F) from pre-industrial levels, Bloomberg noted.
That's the most-ambitious target under the Paris Agreement. The U.S. government is convening a summit with the world's top carbon emitters on April 22, with hopes of driving more ambitious emissions-reductions and climate-finance commitments.
Since taking office, Biden has sought to convince other world leaders that the U.S. is firmly back in the global fight against climate change, after it pulled back under President Donald Trump. Hashing out definitions of green financing will be a key part of discussions at international climate talks scheduled for November in Glasgow, Scotland.
Bloomberg also noted that the new administration's green finance framework should start to take shape by June when leaders of the Group of Seven countries are due to meet in southwest England. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government also wants carbon leakage to be on the agenda.
“Raising ambitions as we go to Glasgow is so critical,” U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said earlier this month. In Glasgow, “we will meet with the nations that met in Paris to hold the earth's temperature hopefully to no larger than a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase,” Kerry said. “Our hope is that by keeping the 1.5 degree target alive in the next 10 years, we lay the groundwork for the exciting venture of transitioning to clean energy.”
The U.S. and Europe could have an identical set of rules that determine what counts as green investment, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Kerry last week in Paris. The EU is due to propose a regulation on the so-called taxonomy next month.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said she will create a “climate hub” within Treasury to address the administration's “whole-of-government” approach toward climate change. The hub will be overseen by a senior adviser who is expected to report directly to Yellen, one of the people said.
A Treasury climate “czar” has not been announced. Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former Federal Reserve official who served in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration, was under consideration for the post, Bloomberg reported last month.
So, we will see. The definition of new program efforts for agriculture also are being watched with interest across the industry. However, environmental criteria can become important hurdles for agricultural activities, especially if they are closely linked to capital availability. In general, programs to limit climate change have been well supported across the U.S. — depending on how interventionist they are and their overall impact on ag and industrial operations. Thus, the new climate rules and programs should be watched closely as they emerge and are implemented, Washington Insider believes.
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