July 18, 2012

House Agriculture Committee adopts a farm bill

Federal Agriculture, Risk, and Reform Management Act  

Key Development: House Agriculture Committee adopts a farm bill with a provision to prohibit EPA from requiring discharge permits for pesticide spraying on or near water bodies.

Potential Impact: The bill would reauthorize conservation, renewable energy, and forestry programs for five years.

The House Agriculture Committee adopted a farm bill July 12 that would provide $57 billion for conservation programs over the next 10 years and prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring Clean Water Act discharge permits for pesticide spraying on or near water bodies.
The Federal Agriculture, Risk, and Reform Management (FARRM) Act (H.R. 6083), which was approved on a 35-11 committee vote, would reauthorize conservation, renewable energy, and nutrition programs at the Agriculture Department, as well as forestry and related activities at the U.S. Forest Service for fiscal years 2013-2017.

In addition to the pesticide spraying language, the legislation includes environmental provisions on pesticide registration, biotechnology in crop production, pine beetle infestations in the West, research on bed bugs, and procedures for forestry projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The bill also would provide no mandatory funding for energy programs administered by the Agriculture Department, including loan guarantees, grants, and other support for biofuels, as well as other forms of renewable energy and energy efficiency (see related story in this issue).

The bill, which replaces direct payments to farmers with a new safety net based on revenue insurance, price protections and crop insurance, survived a 12-hour markup (see related story in this issue).

Current Bill Expires Sept. 30.

The final version of the 2012 farm bill, after the House and Senate have reconciled their differences, would replace the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Pub. L. No. 110-234), which expires Sept. 30.

The House Agriculture Committee's action comes less than a month after the Senate passed its version of the farm bill, which would provide $56.8 billion for conservation programs (120 DER A-38, 6/22/12).

Both the House and Senate would cut at least $6 billion in conservation spending between 2013-2022 through streamlining and consolidating existing programs and by reducing the acreage enrolled in two USDA conservation programs (133 DER A-32, 7/12/12).

Overall, the House bill would cut $35.1 billion in farm program spending over the 10-year period, while the Senate's version would reduce spending by at least $23 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The bill's main policy provisions--replacing direct payment programs for farmers with a mix of price-based and revenue-based insurance, as well as increased crop insurance--remained intact from the draft version of the legislation.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said July 12 that no schedule has been set yet for taking up the farm bill on the floor.

Pesticide Spraying on Waters.

The pesticide-spraying language, taken from a bill (H.R. 872) that passed by the House in March 2011, would bar the agency from requiring National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for pesticides that already are registered for use, sale, and distribution under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

That bill was approved in June 2011 by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, but it stalled after Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) placed a hold on the legislation.

The NPDES permitting requirements took effect Oct. 31, 2011, after a 2009 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned a regulation allowing permitting exemptions for farmers and public health officials who apply pesticides on or near water (National Cotton Council v. EPA, 553 F.3d 927, 68 ERC 1129 (6th Cir., 2009); (212 DER A-37, 11/2/11).

Forest Service Exempted From Comment.

In another environmental provision, Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) successfully offered an amendment that would exempt the U.S. Forest Service from providing public comment and environmental appeals of day-to-day “routine” activities in national forests.

Under NEPA, routine activities that do not have an environmental impact can be grouped as categorical exclusions and are exempt from detailed environmental impact analyses. However, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled in March that the Forest Service is required to provide a public comment and an environmental appeals process for what Thompson said was “something as minor as repairing a power line.”

“Under this ruling, this decision will add at least 30 days, and up to 145 days, for all these noncontroversial, everyday activities,” Thompson said.

Thompson said there are 600 routine projects that are tied up at the Forest Service because of this requirement.

Pine Beetle Provision.

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) also was successful in amending the bill's forestry title. Her measure would allow the Forest Service to designate 10,000 acres, instead of the 1,000 acres allowed in the original draft bill, as a categorical exclusion area to combat pine beetle infestation.

Noem said the larger acreage is needed because the infestation is widespread in the West.

Noem's amendment was based on the National Forest Emergency Act (H.R. 4331 and S. 2277) that Noem and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) jointly introduced in April.

Pesticide Registration, Biotechnology.

Another pesticide provision in the House bill would renew EPA's authority to collect pesticide fees through fiscal year 2017. However, it would prohibit EPA from modifying, canceling, or suspending a pesticide registration on the basis of a biological opinion issued by NOAA Fisheries Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until the completion of an independent study on the opinions (130 DER A-21, 7/9/12).

The bill would require USDA, EPA, and the Department of Health and Human Services to report to Congress within one year of the bill's enactment on proposed measures to reduce the regulatory burden on the research and development of agricultural biotechnology products.

Further, the bill would outline requirements for the regulation of plant-incorporated pesticidal substances by EPA. The agency would be required to base those regulations on sound science, provide for regulatory exemptions for certain products, and use the “least burdensome” requirements.

Also included in the bill is a provision that would require USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to make a determination on any petition for “nonregulated” status within one year. APHIS conducts plant pest risk assessments and environmental analyses on products to determine if they are subject to regulation under Part 340 of the Plant Protection Act. The language in the underlying bill also would clarify that the assessments conducted by APHIS are the only requirements mandated or authorized by law with respect to the review of petitions for nonregulated status.

Research on Bed Bugs.

Rep. Jeanne Schmidt (R-Ohio) was successful in her amendments to require the USDA to prioritize research on bed bugs. She also was able to amend FIFRA's definition to include bed bugs as vectors that cause disease and would require EPA to establish efficacy requirements for pesticides to kill public health pests, including bed bugs. That amendment also would prohibit EPA from approving any product for sale unless the efficacy data support any public health pest controls on the pesticide label.

Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), who supported Schmidt's amendments, remarked that “bed bugs don't stand a chance when the congresswoman is on the case.”

Mixed Reactions to Legislation.

The American Farm Bureau Federation termed the bill a fiscally responsible piece of legislation. Bob Stallman, the federation's president, said farmers would not receive all the provisions they had hoped for, but he commended the “bipartisan spirit” that went into crafting a bill.

The National Farmers Union, which is usually at odds with the farm bureau, also praised the committee's bill.

“The House Agriculture Committee did well to preserve funding levels for conservation programs, which a recent NFU poll found is a priority for farmers across the country,” the union said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the bill makes “misguided reductions” to critical energy and conservation programs.

Franz Matzner, the Natural Resources Defense Council's associate director for government affairs, told BNA the bill passed by the committee went from bad to worse.

“It already included serious threats to public health with treatment of pesticides, and now it includes additional provisions that threaten our water, wildlife, and our children,” Matzner said.

He particularly decried the Forest Service amendment that would cut the public out of decision making.

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