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Federal News

State of Infrastructure

DTN | Posted on February 1, 2018

Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the Center for American Progress, said the president's speech offered no new details."Creating a private equity bonanza for Wall Street will mean higher taxes, tolls, and user fees for working -- and middle-class -- Americans," DeGood said in a news release.The Trump plan calls for about $200 billion in federal dollars invested, to spark public/private partnerships to fund some $1.5 trillion in improvements.DeGood said the plan would lead to increases in state and local taxes and user fees, while shifting the cost burden to states and cities.In addition, Trump called for cutting the permitting time for road and bridge projects from about 10 years to one or two years as a way to speed up improvements.

NAFTA talks that were supposed to end last year might continue into 2019

The Washington Post | Posted on January 30, 2018

Talks aimed at reaching a new trade agreement involving the United States, Canada and Mexico are expected to continue for months beyond a March 31 deadline and could even extend into 2019, according to industry executives and others close to the negotiations. The delay means that the contentious three-way bargaining — involving lucrative markets and issues of national sovereignty — may collide with elections later this year in both Mexico and the United States. For now, the American threat to abandon the talks appears to have receded. But none of the main stumbling blocks have been resolved, leaving substantial work for subsequent meetings that are tentatively planned in Mexico City at the end of February and in Washington the following month.

USDA releases it's 2018 farm bill principles

USDA | Posted on January 30, 2018

The summary of principles are largely broad in scope and would leave much of the nuts and bolts of a farm bill up to Congress. USDA wants a "fiscally responsible" farm bill that reflects the Trump Administration's budget goals. USDA also wants to reduce the regulatory burdens on USDA customers as well. Perdue said the principles come after traveling to more than 30 states to hear from people in agriculture.USDA's farm bill concepts call for "a farm safety net that helps American farmers weather times of economic stress without distorting markets or increasing shallow loss payments."

U.S. EPA reverses policy on 'major sources' of pollution

Reuters | Posted on January 30, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is withdrawing a provision of the Clean Air Act that requires a major source of pollution like a power plant to always be treated as a major source, even if it makes changes to reduce emissions. The decision to withdraw the “once-in always-in” policy is part of President Donald Trump’s effort to roll back federal regulations and was sought by utilities, the petroleum industry and others. Sources of air pollution previously classified as “major sources” may be reclassified as “area” sources when the facility limits its emissions below “major source” thresholds, the EPA said. Area sources are subject to less strict pollution control standards than major sources.“It will reduce regulatory burden for industries and the states, while continuing to ensure stringent and effective controls on hazardous air pollutants,” Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in a statement.

Business GOP lawmakers condemn Trump’s tariff decision ahead of NAFTA talks

The Washington Post | Posted on January 30, 2018

Republican senators on Wednesday condemned President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on washing machines and solar panels, exposing simmering GOP divisions over international trade that threaten the uneasy alliance between the president and lawmakers of his own party. “I don’t agree with it, I think it’s a bad path to head down,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said of the tariff decisions. “The retaliatory tariff fight is never a good fight and I generally think we need to be more positive about our trade opportunities.”The lawmakers said the tariffs could start a trade war that would damage the U.S. economy and threaten jobs, hurting the American workers Trump says he wants to help. The lawmakers also cautioned the administration to move carefully as it renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement — including during talks between U.S., Canadian and Mexican trade officials this week in Montreal. The White House is also considering whether to impose trade restrictions on imports of steel and aluminum, decisions that could have a widespread impact on the U.S. economy.

Trump administration's farm-bill outline emphasizes work as a food-stamp goal

AgWeek | Posted on January 29, 2018

A Trump administration outline for farm legislation calls for pushing some food-stamp recipients back to work, a GOP priority.A four-page document released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday called for supporting "work as the pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being and economic mobility for individuals and families" on food stamps. The administration didn't specify how it would change the law or whether it wants to cut funds for the program. The outline -- described by the administration as a statement of principles -- is meant to guide legislation proposed in Congress, Perdue said in an interview in his USDA office last week. The White House is ready to get more deeply involved if lawmakers veer far from the administration's approach, Perdue added. "You will see more of an evolution than a revolution" in this year's law, Perdue said. "There are some things that we can do and will propose to do in the farm bill that can be helpful."

Canada files WTO complaint over U.S. trade measures

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on January 25, 2018

Canada on Wednesday requested World Trade Organization (WTO) consultations with the United States over U.S. measures concerning anti-dumping and countervailing duty proceedings. Canada considers the measures relating to U.S. anti-dumping or countervailing duty investigations, reviews or other proceedings inconsistent with U.S. obligations under several WTO agreements, the organization said. The request for consultations formally initiates a dispute in the WTO.“If the U.S. removed the orders listed in Canada’s complaint, the flood of imports from China and other countries would negatively impact billions of dollars in Canadian exports to the United States, including nearly $9 billion in exports of steel and aluminum products and more than $2.5 billion in exports of wood and paper products,” Lighthizer said. “Canada’s claims threaten the ability of all countries to defend their workers against unfair trade. Canada’s complaint is bad for Canada.”

2017: A Year of Foreign Ag Subsidies

Farm Policy Facts | Posted on January 25, 2018

From South America to Asia, foreign nations doubled-down on subsidies and market manipulation in 2017 to give their agriculture sectors a huge leg up on the competition. Take China, for example.  The Chinese government announced the most ironic subsidy of the year in June, which was neatly summed up by Reuters:China will spend almost twice as much this year on subsidies to encourage farmers in the northeast to reduce corn plantings as it intensifies its push to rebalance grain stocks.The country will issue 2.56 billion yuan ($374.95 million) in funds [on top of other handouts] to pay farmers subsidies to rotate their corn plantings with other crops every other year as well as to leave some land fallow…China started giving out the subsidies last year under an overhaul of its grains policy under which it had paid farmers artificially high prices for their corn.That policy left it with a stockpile of 250 million tonnes of corn, more than one year's worth of consumption.In other words, China issued big subsidies to fix surplus problems created by China’s big subsidies.  At the end of November, Brazil kicked off a new ethanol program designed to increase ethanol demand and boost domestic sugar prices.  Thailand continued to wrestle with the fallout of a failed scheme to corner the global rice market.  And India waived billions in farm debt, increased tariffs, and announced a slew of other programs to aid its country’s agriculture sector – goodies that are continuing with new subsidy announcements in 2018.In fact, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which tracks global subsidization in 52 countries, reports subsidies totaled $519 billion a year between 2014 and 2016.

SCOTUS decision on WOTUS delivers uncertainty

Agri-Pulse | Posted on January 25, 2018

Current and future court challenges to the “waters of the U.S.” rule must be heard in federal district courts, not circuit courts of appeals, the Supreme Court said Monday in a unanimous decision that ultimately could lead to lawsuits filed all over the country. The court did not buy the arguments of the federal government, most environmental groups and some states that federal appeals courts are the proper venue for litigation over the rule, which has been blasted by the vast majority of farm groups as overly broad but supported by conservation groups that say it strikes the proper regulatory balance. The decision sets up a battle in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals over a nationwide stay of the WOTUS rule that the court issued in October 2015. Because the Supreme Court said that jurisdiction for WOTUS litigation lies in the district court, that means the 6th Circuit will almost certainly have to dissolve its stay wh

Interior eviscerates a fragile wildlife refuge in Alaska behind closed doors during shutdown

Wilderness | Posted on January 25, 2018

Out of public view during the government shutdown today, officials of the U.S. Department of the Interior and Alaska’s King Cove Corporation signed an agreement authorizing a land exchange and construction of a needless road through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and its designated wilderness area. Construction of the road, which prioritizes narrow commercial interests over conservation, would set a dangerous precedent endangering refuges and wilderness areas across the nation, and undermine multiple bedrock environmental and conservation laws including the Wilderness Act, National Environmental Policy Act, National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.Under previous administrations, the federal government has repeatedly studied the issue and determined that the road would cause irreparable harm to the wildlife refuge, that it should not be built, and that viable non-road transportation solutions exist.