The bill that would keep EPA from requiring Clean Water Act permits for pesticide applications has been blocked in the Senate by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). The bill has already been approved by the House and has passed the Senate Agriculture Committee. Since the bill has been blocked, it will need 60 votes before it can be brought to the floor for a vote. That many votes may be difficult to find. So the Environmental Protection Agency rule could yet prevail. Last October EPA approved the use of E-15 for vehicles made after 2000.
Last week EPA issued specific guidelines for labels that are needed for the higher blend to be sold at gas stations. Gasoline companies will be required to register with EPA before they can sell E-15. The process is slow, but ethanol supporters hope that the new blend will be available in the marketplace before the end of the year. Government aid to help retailers invest in blender pumps is still up in the air, with some in Congress pushing for funding and others voting to prevent it.
Legislation to simplify and extend the biodiesel tax incentive has been introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Production of biodiesel has increased from about 25 million gallons in 2004 to about 800 million gallons this year, and could rise to nearly 2 billion gallons by 2015. The proposed bill would change the current blender credit to a production tax credit. The incentive would remain at $1 per gallon, but would eliminate the abuse of the current program that allows oil companies to add a few drops of biodiesel to petroleum diesel to qualify for the credit. Small producers would qualify for a credit of $1.10 per gallon for the first 15 million gallons produced.
The proposed bill would extend the credit for five years. Negotiations to reduce deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years but raise the debt ceiling continue in Washington. While details of what areas have been agreed to, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack says the administration favors basing farm programs on producer “needs”. Cuts to direct payments, and lower income limits for farmers to be eligible for program payments are likely. The administration is pushing for repeal of many tax subsidies for oil, gas, and ethanol. There are rumors that the administration will find a way to extend the cut-off date for an agreement beyond the current deadline of August 2.
It appears Congress has agreed to pass a renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which will clear the way for a debate on the three free trade agreements (FTA) that have been pending for several years. The Obama administration had made renewal of TAA a prerequisite for submitting the free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia to Congress. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) started a mock markup of implementing legislation for the FTAs this week.
There is broad support for the agreements in Congress and approval is expected, maybe before the August recess. However, there are some doubts about the TAA agreement. Republican leaders in the House and Senate say they oppose renewing what they call a costly program at a time of large budget deficits. Senior administration officials say that if the TAA is not renewed, the president will not submit the FTAs for approval. The first step in the farm bill process is an audit of existing farm policy to assess how well it’s working. Representative K. Michael Conaway, Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on general farm commodities and risk management held the first audit hearing last Friday. It was mostly about crop insurance. Bill Murphy, the administrator of the Risk Management Agency was the only witness. Crop insurance is a critical risk management tool for farmers and agriculture committee members hope to protect the program from budget cuts.