Washington Insider -- Wednesday

World to Experience New Weather Patterns from Strong El Nino

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

Cuban, U.S. Diplomats Call for an End to Embargo

Removing the decades-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba is one of several conditions for returning to a normalized relationship with the island nation, according to Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez. Speaking earlier this week with reporters during a joint news conference with Secretary of State John Kerry, Rodriguez expressed skepticism that President Barack Obama would be able to take additional executive action to further weaken the embargo, although he thanked the president for what he's done thus far.

Secretary Kerry reiterated his support for lifting the embargo and echoed President Obama's call for Congress to do just that. The authority to eliminate the embargo lies with Congress. However, using his executive powers, Obama announced a new Cuba policy in December that in part loosens travel restrictions to Cuba and allows limited trade between the two countries.

"I emphasize that totally lifting of the blockade, the return of the legally owned territory of Guantanamo as well as the full respect for the Cuban sovereignty and compensation to our people for human and economic damages are crucial to be able to move towards the normalization of relations," Rodriguez said during the news conference.

That list of demands will not sit well with those in Congress who oppose any change in the decades-old "relationship" between the United States and Cuba. And the idea of the United States providing compensation to Cuba for its embargo may not be embraced even by those who otherwise support ending the economic embargo.

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Senators Seek Boost to RFS Biodiesel Requirement

More than a third of the 100 U.S. senators have signed onto a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy asking that the agency increase the amount of biodiesel required in its pending renewable fuel standards for 2016 and 2017. "We believe the domestic biodiesel industry is fully capable of additional growth and urge the EPA to revise the volumes in the final rule," they said in the letter, signed by 36 senators and led by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

The letter, released ahead of a July 27 comment deadline, said increases of at least 2 billion gallons in 2016 and at least 2.3 billion gallons in 2017 "would be reasonable and prudent" when the agency finalizes the rule in November. EPA proposed 1.8 billion gallons of biodiesel in 2016 and 1.9 billion gallons in 2017 as part of its June proposed rule.

Congressional support for ethanol appears to have been waning over the past year or two, but the senators' letter shows that there remains strong support for biodiesel mandates.

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Washington Insider: World to Experience New Weather Patterns from Strong El Nino

If you think the world has become just too complicated, as many do, another idea is approaching rapidly. El Nino -- the warm phase of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) -- is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific, including off the Pacific coast of South America. And, its characteristics could be especially important this year.

The ENSO refers to the cycles of warm and cold sea surface temperatures of the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean as the seasons change. Variations in this process have important effects on global winds and ocean currents, and on weather and climate. In Spanish, the capitalized term "El Nino" refers to the Christ child, so named because periodic warming in the Pacific near South America is often noticed around Christmas.

This year's transition is on the cusp of attaining "strong" intensity, the Washington Post and others are reporting. And it appears to have a chance to become the most powerful on record. Already, the expanding, deepening pool of warmer-than-normal ocean water in the tropical Pacific has steadily grown much stronger since the spring.

Experts say that a strong El Nino event would likely lead to enhanced rainfall in California this fall and winter, a quieter-than-normal Atlantic hurricane season, a warmer-than-normal winter over large parts of the United States, and a very active hurricane and typhoon season in the Pacific. Some El Nino-related effects have already been seen, and others are expected to become particularly apparent by the fall and winter.

This year's El Nino event is now neck-and-neck with the record-setting event of 1997-1998 in terms of its mid-summer intensity. That time severe flash floods and mudslides occurred in California.

Although the coming El Nino is still officially classified as a "moderate" strength event, Tony Barnston, one of the world's leading El Nino experts, told the Post recently it could well become a "strong" event by the end of the month. "The strength of the departure from normal sea surface temperatures was enough to call it a strong event for just last week," Barnston, of Columbia's International Research Institute for Climate and Society, told the Post. "But to call it an officially strong event, we need for it to stay at that level or higher for a full month. And the average for July could make it."

While the current El Nino is being closely watched, there are still many who say it is too early to forecast the eventual implications of the event. For example, NOAA climate analyst Michelle L'Heureux told the Post he was skeptical of projections of record impacts -- and that none of the major forecasting centers responsible for monitoring El Nino are predicting records at this time. NOAA says the "forecaster consensus" is for a strong event but doesn't specify how strong.

Its forecast calls for El Nino to persist through the winter (90% chance) and early spring (80% chance).

In such situations, the prudent early choice for producers often is to begin to consider potential local consequences and production alternatives and strategies. And they certainly need to learn as much as possible about weather and climate phenomena and their implications. Much is known about the annual shifts of the seasons and what possible variations mean, but their causes and potential effects are still regarded as deeply mysterious by scientists and even model-managers.

Clearly, this is a time to stay abreast of the science and the information it can provide but also to recognize the shortcomings of the forecasts as they appear, Washington Insider believes.


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(GH/CZ)