Washington Insider-- Thursday

FTC Addresses Right to Repair

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

Biofuels Battles Continue

U.S. biofuel policy continues as a focus in Washington, with Reuters reporting Tuesday the White House has opted to push back the proposed levels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for 2021 and 2022 out of political considerations.

If the report is on the mark, the Biden administration appears to be trying to find a solution on biofuel policy that is acceptable to both refiners and biofuel supporters. That proved elusive for several years in the Trump administration.

But others maintain the recent court rulings are also a factor.

Meanwhile, Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., have introduced the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act which would end the 15-billion-gallon conventional (primarily corn-based) ethanol requirement under the RFS. The measure frames the effort in a bid to reduce carbon emissions from transportation fuels by only removing the corn-based ethanol component and leaving the volume obligations in place for advanced and cellulosic biofuels and biodiesel.

Maritime Commission Sets Up Ocean Carriers Audit Program

A new audit program and dedicated audit team has been established at the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to "assess carrier compliance with the Agency's rule on detention and demurrage as well as to provide additional information beneficial to the regular monitoring of the marketplace for ocean cargo services."

The FMC established the "Vessel-Operating Common Carrier Audit Program" July 19 to analyze the top nine carriers by market share relative to compliance on detention and demurrage practices in the U.S., and the FMC may use the information to establish industry best practices. The audit may also focus on "practices of companies related to billing, appeals procedures, penalties assessed by the lines, and any other restrictive practices."

FMC Chairman Daniel Maffei said in announcing the audit effort that "if the audit team uncovers prohibited activities, the Commission will take appropriate action. Furthermore, the information gathered by the audit process might lead to changes in FMC regulations and industry guidance if warranted."

Washington Insider: FTC Addresses Right to Repair

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is forging ahead on plans to address the issue of "right to repair," one that ag interests have long been raising as an issue.

The White House directed FTC to address the issue in the recently issue executive order on competition. Before you think that the FTC has hastily put this effort together, it has been a long time in coming.

The FTC effort actually dates back to 2019. That's when the agency held a workshop in July of 2019 entitled, "Nixing the Fix: A Workshop on Repair Restrictions." Even the title suggested the agency was looking to wade into the issue.

The 2019 workshop spawned a report the FTC adopted 4-0 called "Nixing the Fix," a report agreed to and announced May 6. That report indicated there was "scant evidence to support manufacturers' justifications for repair restrictions." Again, another sign that the FTC was about the delve into the issue and mostly likely it would not be favorable for those who backed keeping consumers or small repair shops from fixing products.

The FTC this week approved a policy statement on the issue on a unanimous vote. "Restricting consumers and businesses from choosing how they repair products can substantially increase the total cost of repairs, generate harmful electronic waste, and unnecessarily increase wait times for repairs," FTC said. "In contrast, providing more choice in repairs can lead to lower costs, reduce e-waste by extending the useful lifespan of products, enable more timely repairs, and provide economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and local businesses."

And FTC Chair Lina Khan dove right into the issue when the regulator's open meeting started on Wednesday. "These types of restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunity for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs, and undermine resiliency," Kahn stated. "The FTC has a range of tools it can use to root out unlawful repair restrictions, and today's policy statement would commit us to move forward on this issue with new vigor."

And FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra noted the situation has gone beyond just competition issues. "While we typically view improper repair restrictions through its effects on fair competition, consumers, and small businesses, the Right to Repair movement also showed us how these problems can be matters of life and death," he observed.

But Chopra also spoke to the issue as it relates to agriculture. "Farmers relying on tractors and other equipment have been blocked from an open repair market, which can lead to spoiled crops and missing out on critical income," he stated.

After the unanimous vote for the policy statement, the FTC said it will "prioritize" investigations into these "unlawful repair restrictions." They want to have the public to "submit complaints and provide other information to aid in greater enforcement of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act." Current law does not provide for civil penalties, but the FTC will consider filing suit on the issues. Plus, they will look at rulemaking.

They will also "scrutinize repair restrictions for violations of antitrust laws." What do they mean by that? "Certain repair restrictions may constitute tying arrangements or monopolistic practices -- such as refusals to deal, exclusive dealing, or exclusionary design -- that violate the Sherman Act."

They will also look at whether repair restrictions run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission Act. Plus, they will work throughout their agency to find expertise to "combat unlawful repair restrictions," and will "closely coordinate with state law enforcement and policymakers to ensure compliance and to update existing law and regulation to advance the goal of open repair markets."

While the White House directed the FTC to take action on "right to repair," it certainly appears they were ready to do so whether the executive order came or not.

So we will see. Now the focus will be on the FTC and their pledge to act, and no doubt farmers and small repair shops might be some of the first to get in touch with the agency as they look at a machine that will not operate properly due to a situation they have no control over, something which should be watched closely, Washington Insider believes.

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