Washington Insider-- Friday

Politics and Climate Change

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

Vilsack Urges EU to Accept U.S. Pork Raised With Ractopamine

The European Union should open its market to pork raised with the growth promoting feed additive ractopamine, allowing consumers to choose whether or not to purchase such pork and other U.S.-produced ag products, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told delegates at the EU Agricultural Outlook Conference in Brussels, Belgium.

"Obviously there's a disagreement here. We believe the international community has established the safety of ractopamine. But we are also sensitive to what the customer wants, and we are working with industry to create market demand to respond to where the consumer wants the market to go," Vilsack said.

Vilsack's visit to Brussels and advocacy for U.S. ag products are seen as a prelude to the next round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks set for late January. The visit is seen as a means of explaining the U.S. point-of-view on agriculture and to assuage European concerns about the different food safety standards.

European agricultural protocols are more stringent than those in the United States and allow products to be banned from sale easier than in the United States. The protocols are enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which serves as a constitution of sorts for the EU.

Vilsack outlined his concerns with the EU approach to phytosanitary issues, saying, "The concern we have is that when we don't look at the science, or add politics to the debate, we get into a situation where there can't be a free flow of goods, as trade deals dictate."

Acknowledging that some compromise will likely be needed, Vilsack said, "We did something along those lines with beef. We think hormones are safe. The European consumer does not. But we created an agreement on hormone-free beef so that we won't be pressuring each other on this issue going forward." He cited animal welfare as another area where consumer preferences could drive markets for ag products, noting that "You're going to see a lot of change in this area in response to change in market demand."

U.S. farms are much larger on average than European farms and Vilsack tried to address the perceptions associated with that disparity. He noted that the U.S. has 2.2 million farmers, with 1.3 million of them selling less than $10,000 and $1,000 of products each year; he further highlighted the 162,000 organic farmers that create $11 billion in revenue annually.

Fiscal 2016 Omnibus Spending Plan Talks Hit Roadblocks

A new proposal by House and Senate Republican leaders to insert over 30 riders to the omnibus spending bill for Fiscal 2016 could endanger the bill's prospects for passage, House Democrats said.

Proposals put forward by Republicans included riders which would modify Dodd-Frank Act financial protections and stymie Obama administration environmental regulations. Democrats say they plan to present their own counteroffer to the Republican proposal, as Congress races to meet the Dec. 11 deadline to pass the omnibus spending package needed to avoid a government shutdown.

"Congressional Republicans are whistling past the political graveyard of a government shutdown. If Republicans go back to the strategy of trying to pass budget legislation along party lines, they'll see that that process doesn't work, they can go ask former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, how well that process works," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, after being made aware of the new Republican proposal.

Negotiations need to be completed by Dec. 4 for the omnibus bill to be ready for debate during the week of Dec. 7, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., has indicated. If Congress fails to pass an omnibus bill by the Dec. 11 deadline, President Obama might be open to signing a one- or two-day continuing resolution which would fund the government while Congress hashes out a compromise, Earnest said.

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Washington Insider: Politics and Climate Change

In general, the press has been watching with amazement as Congress and the president duel over budgets, possible reconciliation, climate change and other sharp-edged policy issues.

As in the fight over Iran sanctions, Republican members of Congress have done what once would have been unthinkable, that is, assert to the world that the president's proposals cannot be relied upon. In the climate change fight, administration critics assert that the administration's power plant emission rules will be overturned by the next president, Congress or the federal courts. Sen. James Inhofe R, Okla., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, warned that the message could not be clearer.

However, the Obama administration showed little concern. For example, the top U.S. negotiator for the Paris climate talks argued that congressional votes against the White House's environmental agenda aren't hurting the U.S. position.

Todd Stern, the State Department's special envoy for climate change, told reporters in Paris on Wednesday that he's fielded questions about the Republican-backed votes from other diplomats, but he's assured them that President Obama's policies will stand.

Stern made those comments basically as the House voted to overturn two landmark Environmental Protection Agency regulations that require power plants to cut their carbon dioxide emissions. "I don't actually think [the Inhofe comments] had much of an effect here," Stern told reporters. Obama plans to veto both measures.

"It produces questions, so I have had countries ask me about, but what I have said is that the Clean Power Plan rule is going to go forward," he said. "The president's not going to accept such resolutions, and we are entirely confident that the Clean Power Plan will go forward. And so, to the extent that I'm asked -- I've been asked once or twice -- I just explain that."

In the meantime, new evidence was released this week that the current GOP position on climate change is very different than that of earlier, revered Republican officials including Ronald Reagan.

These old memos were stamped "confidential" and kept under wraps for years, the Post says. They portray a White House eager to assert U.S. leadership on climate change. Global warming will have "profound consequences" and the United States "cannot wait" until all scientific questions are resolved before taking action.

A 1987 memo shows Reagan White House officials pushing back against members of Reagan's own cabinet in arguing for a strong treaty safeguarding the thin band of atmospheric ozone that protects the Earth from harmful radiation from space. "Many regard this issue as the most important priority on the global environmental agenda," John D. Negroponte, then a State Department assistant secretary for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, writes to then-Secretary of State George Shultz.

The memo warns against efforts to weaken the treaty, saying such a move "would damage our international credibility, unleash major domestic criticism, and probably result in unilateral US controls on ozone-depleting chemicals. Negroponte argues instead for a position that is "prudently addressing the environmental risks, while providing a market stimulus and a reasonable time-frame for industry to develop alternate products."

Two years later, advisers to the George H.W. Bush administration are seen advocating a serious U.S. response to climate change, an issue that was just beginning to draw international attention in the late 1980s. A 1989 memo to then-Secretary of State James A. Baker III asserts that the United States should take a leadership role in the fight against a threat it calls "the most far reaching environmental issue of our time."

The memos reflect the moderate stance on climate change adopted by Republican leaders both in the White House and in Congress throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Other factors supporting the president's confidence regarding his proposals for U.S. leadership in the climate wars likely are reports that a strong majority of Americans say the United States should join international plans to reduce greenhouse gasses and slow climate change; that some 53% of Americans think global warming is caused by human activity; and that about half of the respondents think global warming is already having serious impacts on environment.

So, we will see what comes out of the Paris conference, and whether GOP efforts to undercut the president's effort actually succeed. Pressure for a climate deal seems to be growing in response to this winter's El Nino and the bad weather being observed in many locations. Nevertheless, this is sort of the fight of the century and if the willingness among trading partners to support joint efforts in Paris continues to grow, it could have broad implications for many sectors of agriculture and other industries, Washington Insider believes.


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(GH/CZ)