In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot require livestock operations to obtain Clean Water Act (CWA) permits unless and until they have a discharge of manure into a waterway of the United States. The court said EPA exceeded its authority in requiring Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that propose to or might discharge to apply for CWA permits. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), American Farm Bureau, National Chicken Council, and other agricultural organizations brought the lawsuit against EPA regarding regulations that were promulgated in 2003 and 2008. NPPC said, “The court recognized a clear limit on EPA’s authority and required the agency to comply with the clean water law.”

Agriculture Competition, Concentration — Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, announced the subcommittee’s plans for the 112th Congress. For agriculture, the subcommittee plans to examine competition in agricultural markets, including “consolidation in the agricultural sector, dairy market concentration, and competition in the market for genetically modified seeds.” The subcommittee also wants to find out what the Department of Justice learned from their joint agriculture competition workshops with USDA and how it will affect antitrust enforcement in the agricultural sector.

Senate Republicans Raise Pressure on Trade Agenda — The Senate Republicans sent a very strong message to the administration regarding their support for the Colombia and Panama Free Trade Agreements (FTA). If the administration fails to send these FTAs for congressional consideration, they said they will use “all the tools at our disposal to force action.” In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV), 44 Senate Republicans stated: “As a result of the administration’s failure to act on these agreements, American companies and their workers are losing market share and are being denied valuable business opportunities. At the same time, Colombia and Panama are continuing to expand their trade partnerships elsewhere, signing bilateral free trade agreements with the European Union, Canada, and other countries that are eager to move into these large markets at the expense of U.S. workers.” The letter also pointed out that the rest of the world is not waiting on the United States to take action. The administration has indicated it wants Congress to pass the Korean FTA this spring and plans to send the Colombian and Panama FTA for Congressional action later this year. The unions strongly oppose the Colombian FTA. Since 2007, the U.S. market share for feedgrains in Colombia has dropped from 96% to 18%.

Another Short-Term Continuing Resolution — Congress passed another short-term continuing resolution to keep the federal government operational. The three-week continuing resolution runs through April 8, and cuts an additional $6 billion from fiscal year 2011 spending. Many of the items cut were proposed by the administration. USDA funding was cut $358 million, but the cuts do not affect farm programs. There is growing unrest in Congress to continue with short-term continuing resolutions. The administration and the congressional leadership continue to meet to try and finalize the FY ’11 appropriations. Another key issue facing the administration and Congress is the debt ceiling, which likely will need to be raised sometime in April. If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, the United States then would default on its obligations.

P. Scott Shearer
Vice President
Bockorny Group
Washington, D.C.