Since 2012 is a presidential election year, don’t look for much to get done in Washington. (Yes, it’s likely that Congress will accomplish even less this year than it did last.)

Additionally, Capitol Hill lawmakers will be working under tight budgets and looming across-the-board cuts in programs for fiscal year 2013, thanks to the failure of the so-called deficit-cutting Super Committee. Still, there will be much for the National Pork Producers Council to do in the year ahead.

Here are some of the issues that NPPC expects to be addressing:

Farm Bill: Congress is scheduled to write — or at least start writing — the next farm bill. As it has done in the past farm bills, NPPC will ensure that it doesn’t include provisions that are detrimental to the U.S. pork industry. It also will work to add new risk-management tools for producers, to reduce acres now in the Conservation Reserve Program, to increase agricultural research and to prevent the government from mandating on-farm production practices.

A preview of lawmakers’ thinking on the next farm bill surfaced last fall when Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chairs of the Senate and House agriculture committees, offered to the Super Committee $23 billion in cuts to agriculture programs over 10 years. In all, $15 billion of that would have come from the farm bill, excluding the food and nutrition programs of Title I, which makes up more than 75 percent of the bill.

GIPSA Rule: In December, USDA issued a scaled-back final regulation addressing the buying and selling of livestock and poultry, known as the GIPSA rule. The agency will implement it early in the year. As originally proposed in June 2010, the rule would have, among other things, restricted marketing agreements between producers and processors and limited producers’ ability to negotiate better prices for the animals they sell.

It went well beyond the five areas that Congress outlined in the 2008 Farm Bill for USDA to address regarding production and marketing contracts in the livestock and poultry sectors. While controversial provisions included in the original GIPSA rule are not in the final version, there may be attempts to re-propose them.

New CAFO and Water-quality Rules: Last year NPPC won a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2008 rule, which regulates discharges from concentrated animal-feeding operations. This year, NPPC will be scrutinizing the agency’s new CAFO proposal. In its 2008 rule, EPA wanted to require CAFOs to obtain Clean Water Act permits if they “proposed” to discharge.

NPPC also will weigh in on EPA’s proposed water-quality rules, including one that would set stringent new nitrogen and phosphorus limits on manure application. NPPC will continue to vigorously oppose the rule, which was formulated without input from agricultural interests and is not based on sound science.

Ethanol: In 2012, several issues related to ethanol are expected to arise, including a possible decision by EPA to allow the sale of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol blended into it — or E-15. NPPC sued EPA for allowing E-15 for 2001 and older model vehicles, arguing that the Clean Air Act does not allow partial waivers. Oral arguments in that case will be heard this spring.

Additionally, the ethanol industry is expected to push for corn-ethanol to be designated as an “advanced biofuel,” a label that would allow the industry to exceed the federal Renewable Fuels Standard mandate of 15 billion gallons. Congress may consider legislation introduced last year that would reduce the RFS if the corn stocks-to-use ratio falls below certain levels. NPPC supports the measure as a way to ensure that producers have access to corn for their animals when supplies are tight.

National Air Emissions Monitoring Study: Last January, EPA released the raw data from a two-year study of air emissions from livestock and poultry farms. The study was part of a 2005 air consent agreement that livestock and poultry operations entered with EPA. This year, EPA’s science advisory board will convene a livestock emissions panel to review the data, which the agency will use to set scientifically sound and economically sustainable emissions standards for farms. EPA may issue draft emissions “factors” (a guide) for farms.

NPPC, which helped negotiate the 2005 consent agreement and urged EPA to set up the livestock panel to collect input from those who will be affected by any emissions standards, will review all proposed items.

Antibiotics: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue a final rule related to Veterinary Feed Directives, requiring more antibiotics to be sold only through a veterinarian’s written orders. It’s also likely to release its guidance on farm-animal antibiotics, limiting uses of antibiotics that are important to human medicine.

NPPC, which weighed in on both areas, will work with regulators, animal health companies and pork producers to help ensure that compliance with the proposed new regulations has a minimal impact on animal health and food safety.

Legislation to ban certain classes of antibiotics in livestock production is always a threat to be added to various measures moving through Congress, including the farm bill. NPPC will be vigilant to such efforts.

Free-trade Agreements: Congress finally approved the free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea in October 2011. Now comes the task of moving forward with implementation. 

NPPC will work with the Obama administration to ensure the FTAs are enacted quickly so that pork producers may begin taking advantage of their benefits. According to Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes, the FTAs will generate nearly $772 million in new U.S. pork sales, add more than $11 to the price producers receive for each hog marketed and create more than 10,000 pork industry jobs once fully implemented.

Russia WTO Accession/PNTR: The World Trade Organization has invited Russia to join the global trade group, and it is scheduled to become a member in the second quarter of 2012. Although it sees benefits with Russia being a WTO member, NPPC still has concerns with the country’s sanitary and phytosanitary trade barriers.

To gain full benefit of Russia’s WTO membership, the United States must grant it Permanent Normal Trade Relations status, something Russia now lacks. However, under a U.S./Russia 1992 bilateral agreement, it appears the United States will get the tariff-concessions benefit when Russia enters the WTO. (It is unclear whether Congress will address the Russia PNTR this year.) NPPC will work with the Obama administration to resolve the SPS issues with Russia.

Trans-Pacific Partnership: NPPC will work with the Obama administration on the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. TPP is an Asia-Pacific trade pact that currently includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. Japan also has asked to join the talks on the multilateral trade agreement, which would help expand American exports, saving and creating jobs in the United States.

NPPC will work to convince the administration and Congress that Japan should be included in the negotiations. NPPC also will urge the administration to resolve sanitary and phytosanitary trade barriers that some TPP countries have in place.

MCOOL Fix: A WTO dispute-settlement panel ruled in November that the U.S. Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling law violates U.S. WTO trade obligations. Canada and Mexico had brought the case forward to WTO.

MCOOL was implemented as part of the 2002 Farm Bill and requires retailers to notify customers about the country of origin of several commodities, including pork.

NPPC, which opposed the original MCOOL law when it was debated in Congress, and other agricultural organizations will be working with lawmakers to craft a legislative fix so that it is WTO-compliant. The United States must comply with the WTO ruling; otherwise it risks retaliation from and a trade war with Canada and Mexico.

So, as you can see, there’s no shortage of issues to address in Washington in 2012. The challenge for agriculture will be in grabbing attention and keeping lawmakers focused and committed in an election year.