Ag Today Monday, December 14, 2015

Ag Today

Monday, December 14, 2015

 

Sacramento Bee

Drought worries weren’t enough to force agreement on Calif. water bill

By Michael Doyle

California lawmakers’ repeated failures to agree on legislation to resolve the state’s seemingly endless battle over how to use its water resources raise new questions about whether they’ll ever be able to find a compromise.

This year, the climate looked ripe for an agreement. The state endured another year of drought. The tracks seemed greased, with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, conducting. The staffers worked tirelessly, and in Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Central Valley Republicans had an experienced negotiating partner.

Now, cold rain and snow have returned to California, dampening the sense of urgency. McCarthy and Feinstein are denouncing each other in ways that won’t soon be forgotten, and frustrated lawmakers are left to either pick up the pieces or point fingers. Late Thursday, Republican representatives admitted defeat, acknowledging that no legislation would happen this year.

“Sadly,” McCarthy said Friday, “our senators have once again failed to rise and meet the challenge with us.”

The No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, McCarthy joined 12 other California GOP lawmakers at a Capitol Hill news conference designed to both pressure Feinstein and shape public impressions about the water bill’s failure. They did not pull their punches, even as Feinstein said a compromise remained possible.

“Our senators,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Redding, “have basically pulled the football away from us once again.”

Northern California Democrats countered that Republicans have only themselves to blame for the failure to achieve a compromise.

“It’s not a good bill, and it’s not good policy,” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove. “Beyond that, it’s dead because it was grossly mismanaged by Republicans.”

At issue is the effort to address California’s drought with legislation. Proposals ran from new studies of water storage to funding for recycling and desalination programs. Central Valley Republicans wanted to expand the amount of water available for irrigation.

The lawmakers wanted to fold what eventually became 92 pages of California water proposals into the $1.1 trillion so-called omnibus spending bill needed to keep the federal government operating. Republicans observed Friday that Feinstein herself had agreed with using the must-pass spending bill as the vehicle for the water legislation.

But the Republicans could not win agreement from Feinstein and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in time for the water package to make it into the omnibus bill, which is set for congressional approval early next week.

“There were at least a half-dozen items in the bill that I had rejected and that would have drawn objections from state or federal agencies; some of them would likely violate environmental law,” Feinstein said, adding that “several more provisions were still being negotiated.”

Feinstein said negotiators had “come to closure on virtually all” the remaining disagreements, and she indicated that she hoped to have a bill finished as early as next week that can move through “regular order.”

Regular order would mean going through the standard committee process sometime next year. Multiple House Republicans said Friday that they were skeptical of the prospects, though they don’t rule it out.

“I wish her luck,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona.

The problems that sank this year’s effort were political, substantive, procedural and, to some degree, personal.

Late last week, under circumstances that remain murky, a McCarthy staffer presented a water bill package as having been signed off on by Feinstein. In fact, Feinstein had not approved the final language. While Calvert complained that “Feinstein took umbrage to what was at most a staffer error in a closed-door meeting,” the state’s senior senator resented the move.

“The bill that Republicans tried to place in the omnibus last week – in my name and without my knowledge – hadn’t been reviewed by me, Sen. Boxer, the state or the White House,” Feinstein said Friday.

Politically, the House GOP members had failed to secure support from Gov. Jerry Brown, the Obama administration and a slew of Northern California Democrats whose districts include the environmentally sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

In a memo dated Dec. 1 and marked “confidential,” Obama administration officials warned of “the prospects of a fresh round of litigation” being prompted by the proposed legislation. The 10-page memo further said officials were “deeply concerned” about new burdens being imposed.

Substantively, negotiators did reach agreement in a number of areas, including consideration of new water storage projects and funding for recycling and desalination. Republicans say their proposal also preserved the Endangered Species Act, a crucial question for both sides.

Negotiators, though, were unable to resolve key questions related to increased water pumping to farms.

Procedurally, Democrats complained repeatedly that they were shut out of meaningful negotiations.

“It was the same old stuff from the same interests who appear uninterested in getting to yes with Democrats like me and others, who have to be part of the conversation,” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said Friday.

Republicans say the Democratic complaints of exclusion are overblown, and there was, in fact, Democratic participation for a time. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, claimed that “half of the provisions” in the final House proposal were taken straight from Feinstein.

Garamendi said Friday that he had one meeting this fall with four senators and four House Republicans, which was followed by daily bipartisan staff discussions in McCarthy’s House office through mid-November.

In the end, though, the respective parties collapsed back into their respective camps.

“It’s like two bulls in a corral, and they’re trying to find out who’s the toughest and the meanest,” Garamendi said. “There’s a lot of stomping and snorting and pushing each other around, and at the end of the day, what’s it all about? It’s throwing dust in the air.”

Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10, mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com

 

San Francisco Chronicle

Salmon die-off fears at heart of latest California water conflict

By Peter Fimrite

Jittery water regulators who worry that projected El Niño rains won’t fill reservoirs want to hold back additional water in Shasta and Folsom lakes next summer to prevent another catastrophic Sacramento River die-off of salmon, which need cool flows of mountain water to survive.

But neither thirsty farmers nor environmentalists are happy about the plan, underscoring continued tension over the damage wrought across California by the historic drought.

The proposal outlined this week by the State Water Resources Control Board would require Folsom Dam to hold a minimum of 200,000 acre-feet of water and Shasta Dam to keep at least 1.6 million acre-feet in reserve by Oct. 16, a date selected because it typically marks when the state is driest and water levels are at their lowest.

That’s significantly more than the amount the lakes dipped to this October — 148,200 acre-feet in Folsom and 1.4 million acre-feet in Shasta. One acre-foot is enough to cover an acre of land in a foot of water, roughly the amount needed to supply a family of four for a year.

“This new draft order is looking for a margin of safety,” said Tim Moran, policy spokesman for the water board, which will vote on the proposal at its meeting Tuesday in Sacramento.

“The idea is to keep a big enough cold water pool in Shasta so that we can have temperature control,” he said. “It’s been two years in a row now that there has been catastrophic winter-run salmon mortality and we’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen a third year.”

State resource officials are required by law to release enough cold water during spawning season to keep the Sacramento River at 56 degrees — the ideal temperature for young salmon.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reported in October that 95 percent of the winter-run chinook eggs, hatchlings and juvenile salmon died this year in the Sacramento River, which was too warm to support them. That’s millions of fish that didn’t make it out of the river, let alone into the ocean.

It was the second year in a row that most of the juvenile salmon died in the soupy water released from Shasta Dam, a problem caused by a lack of snow on top of four years of drought. There just wasn’t enough cold water left behind the dam to release during spawning season, biologists said.

The water in Folsom Lake, meanwhile, got perilously close to dipping below 120,000 acre-feet, the level it needs for the intake valves to work. The record low level threatened water supplies for 500,000 suburban households, including homeowners in Folsom, Granite Bay, Roseville and part of Sacramento.

Coordinated releases

Complicating the problem, the two dams coordinate releases in an effort to maintain cold water and keep salinity levels down in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. If Shasta holds back water, other reservoirs, including Folsom, must release more water to prevent salty ocean water from contaminating the delta.

The water board had been expected to limit water releases if the drought continued, but the scope of this week’s proposal was unexpected and, predictably, farmers who rely on Sacramento River supplies were upset. Many didn’t get any water from the state this year and had to fallow fields or rely on well water if it was available.

“It seems like we’re chasing our tail again trying to manage flows for the benefit of fish in the Sacramento River,” said Chris Scheuring, a water lawyer for the California Farm Bureau Federation. “When we do that, water users suffer.”

Scheuring said the state will never be able to adequately protect fish until hydrologists figure out how to provide more water to farms and communities. Instead of imposing limits, he urged state and federal regulators to consider more water storage projects, including dams, groundwater storage and regeneration and water-saving measures like recycling.

In a rare convergence of usual rivals, fishery advocates also expressed skepticism about the proposed order.

Jon Rosenfield, a conservation biologist for the Bay Institute, said the plan does not guarantee relief for imperiled fish in the river or delta. Instead, he said, it essentially gives the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Shasta Dam, carte blanche to do what it wants.

“There is nothing in there that says that (fish and river ecology) are going to get any relief,” Rosenfield said.

He believes that the water board should set minimum levels based on how much runoff flows into the lakes — and that more water should be set aside during wet years to protect spawning fish and delta habitat and for storage.

Last great migration

“This year and last year, the board cut water quality standards in the delta and cut freshwater flows, and salmon died in unparallelled numbers and algal blooms with harmful levels of neurotoxins grew in the delta,” he said. “The state board has clearly not provided a balance between economic uses and all the other public interests.”

The Sacramento River chinook salmon run is the last great migration along the giant Central Valley river system, which includes the San Joaquin River. The species, also known as king salmon, are born in the Sacramento River and pass through San Francisco Bay, roaming the Pacific Ocean as far as Alaska before returning three years later to spawn.

Leaping, wriggling chinook were once so plentiful that old-timers recalled reaching in and plucking fish right out of the water. The construction of Shasta Dam on the Sacramento, Friant Dam on the San Joaquin, Folsom Dam on the American River and Oroville Dam on the Feather River over the past century cut off huge sections of river, wiping out most of the fish.

Most of the salmon caught in the ocean and in the rivers are now bred in hatcheries, but there are still some wild fish, and those are the ones fisheries biologists are desperately trying to save. Winter-run chinook, which breed at a different time than other salmon, have been listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1994.

Fewer than 270,000 juvenile winter-run chinook were counted in the Sacramento River near Red Bluff this year, a 29.3 percent drop from a year ago, when the mortality rate was also high. That’s compared with 8.5 million in 2005 and 4.4 million in 2009. A third bad year for salmon would mean that all winter-run chinook, which breed in three-year cycles, are in peril, a clear sign that the species is heading toward extinction.

The water board can modify the requirements for Shasta and Folsom lakes based on public input — or if a monster El Niño leaves reservoirs brimming this spring, Moran said. The pushing and shoving over the state’s most precious resource will nevertheless continue regardless of whether there is rain.

“It just seems like our water resources are serving too many masters at this point,” Scheuring said.

Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: pfimrite@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @pfimrite.

 

 

Wall Street Journal

Farmers Have Qualms About DuPont, Dow Chemical Merger

Farm groups call for thorough regulatory review

By Jacob Bunge

Farming leaders reacted with concern to the planned merger between Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co., calling for regulators to scrutinize a deal that could give the companies broader clout in the markets for seeds and pesticides.

The deal, announced Friday, would create a combined company called DowDuPont worth more than $120 billion at current valuations that would later split into three publicly traded businesses focused on agriculture, material sciences and specialty products in nutrition and electronics.

DowDuPont’s revenue from its chemicals and materials businesses would be far larger, but the markets for those products tend to be more fragmented. The agriculture business would boast major market share: to about 41% of sales of U.S. corn seeds and related genetics versus DuPont’s current 35% and Dow’s 6%, for example.

What’s more, analysts expect the tie-up could fuel further deal making among the six companies that currently dominate the global market for seed and crop chemicals, a group that also includes Monsanto Co., Syngenta AG, Bayer AG and BASF SE.

Analysts expect the DuPont-Dow deal to face close examination—in the U.S. and the European Union as well as other major markets like Brazil. The “global nature of the antitrust hurdles are…likely to be significant,” analysts at Piper Jaffray & Co. wrote.

Dow and DuPont executives said they didn’t anticipate problems. DuPont Chief Executive Ed Breen said in an interview that they plan to divest only minor pieces of their businesses–“nothing that would move the needle,” he said.

The National Farmers Union said that having just five major players “would almost certainly increase the pressure for remaining companies to merge, resulting in even less competition, reduced innovation and likely higher costs for farmers.”

“It’s time for federal regulators to remember that bigger isn’t always better,” said the group’s president, Roger Johnson.

The National Corn Growers Association said it would study the merger’s likely impact on research, grain pricing, and costs for seeds and pesticides and “will do all we can to protect farmer interests and preserve an open and competitive marketplace.”

“DuPont and Dow are two titans of American industry and the proposed merger demands serious scrutiny,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican.

Dave Nelson, who farms near Fort Dodge, Iowa, said he has concerns that consolidation could blunt the competitive drive among big seed and chemical companies to create new products and bring them to market quickly. But he said it wouldn’t much alter how he chooses seeds and sprays.

“In this type of [poor] ag economy you’re going to see more consolidation,” Mr. Nelson said. “It’s a sign of the times.”

Write to Jacob Bunge at jacob.bunge@wsj.com

 

 

Sacramento Bee

Public comments flood in as FDA considers what foods are ‘natural’

By Michael Doyle

San Francisco resident Elizabeth Cox bought a bag of All-Natural Mission Tortilla Triangles in August 2012. That simple purchase helped fire up a high-stakes labeling dispute that’s subsequently engaged federal judges, regulators and lawmakers alike.

Now, one month after asking members of the public what they think, the Food and Drug Administration is engorged with thousands of suggestions about regulating use of the word “natural” on food labels.

“If manufacturers want to benefit from such labels, force them to be specific about what their food is or isn’t,” Mary Petrofsky, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based nurse practitioner, advised the FDA. “Don’t allow them to just slap an overall label onto it.”

Petrofsky’s electronically filed suggestion is one of 2,227 comments logged through Thursday afternoon since the FDA asked the public on Nov. 12 to weigh in on the labeling question. Thousands more will flood in before the comment period closes Feb. 10.

The comments could help the FDA decide whether to define “natural” on labels, as well as related questions such as whether only raw agricultural products deserve the term and what ingredients might render a food ineligible.

With the questions about “natural” now hot enough to be identified as “trending” on the FDA’s website, the public comments are starting to fall into several familiar channels that frequently recur when the federal government formally solicits public views.

Some offer technical observations. Edward R. Blonz, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, College of Pharmacy, served the FDA details about complex carbohydrates and synthetic molecules.

Others opine from the perspective of an embattled consumer.

“We already know how misleading the food industry is and how little it cares for consumer well-being,” Sacramento-area resident Stacey Reardon wrote, adding that “the FDA needs to step in and regulate these food companies that make misleading claims about their products.”

Still others echo positions taken by advocacy or public interest groups, such as Consumers Union. Often, many of the most substantive comments come in at the last minute; and, on an issue like this, at least some lawmakers are certain to join the crowd.

In July, the House of Representatives passed a bill that, among other provisions, would require the FDA to go through the rule-making process necessary to define the term “natural” on labels. Critics fear this GOP-authored bill would pre-empt state labeling laws and could result in genetically engineered foods being dubbed “natural.”

“Our constituents want to know how their food is made, and they are calling on us to help make this information more accessible,” Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, said during House debate.

The fight over “natural” labeling is a complicated one that has taken place on many fronts and across multiple federal agencies.

Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group, an organization pushing for GMO labels on food packaging, shares some tips for finding items on grocery store shelves that contain genetically modified organisms (GMO). As Vice President of Government Affair

Cox’s purchase of the tortilla chips in August 2012, for instance, planted the seeds for an attempted class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco. Cox claimed the chips’ manufacturer, Gruma Corp., misled consumers by labeling chips as “all natural,” even though they were made from “genetically modified corn products.”

The lawsuit, and several others like it, prompted three federal judges to ask the FDA for a determination of whether ingredients produced using bioengineering may be labeled as “Natural,” “All Natural” or “100% Natural.” Last year, the FDA ducked the question.

This year, after receiving competing petitions from disparate groups including Consumers Union, the Grocery Manufacturers of America and the Sara Lee Corp., the FDA relented and opened the floor for public debate. It’s reportedly the first time since 1993 that the agency has formally addressed the term “natural.”

“At that time,” FDA officials noted last month, the agency determined that “we would maintain our policy not to restrict the use of the term ‘natural’ except for added color, synthetic substances, and flavors.”

Cox’s lawsuit was dismissed last year at the request of all parties, court records show.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10, mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com

 

 

Merced Sun Star

Farm bureau’s head departs; Ramos takes reins

By Brianna Calix

Amanda Priest, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau, will end her tenure in that position this month as she prepares for a move to Oklahoma.

Priest, who began as executive director in 2010, will work her last day Dec. 23. She and her husband, Curtis, will relocate to Oklahoma, where he was selected for an exclusive pilot slot with the U.S. Air Force. While in Oklahoma, Amanda Priest will focus on graduate classes.

The Merced County Farm Bureau serves as an independent advocacy group that supports policies and legislation that benefit agriculture.

Gino Pedretti, a vice president on the farm bureau board, said Priest’s work has impressed him.

“She’s definitely taught me a lot about different subjects and made me a better board member,” he said. “I think she’s done a very good job, and it’s been a very vital part of giving the farm bureau leadership.”

Priest, a Merced native, said connecting local leaders to farm bureau members was the highlight of her job.

“Finding that balance where growers can continue to prosper in the midst of so much hardship has been and will continue to be the driving force behind my efforts and MCFB as a whole,” she said.

Priest served as a voice for farm bureau members during many hot-button policy items, including Los Banos’ consideration of making Highway 152 a toll road, Merced County’s groundwater ordinance and lawsuits affecting the California High Speed Rail Authority.

“These last six years have been exhilarating, challenging, and I am left with a vast amount of knowledge that I plan to take on this new adventure,” Priest said.

The farm bureau board of directors unanimously endorsed Breanne Ramos to replace Priest. Ramos will begin her role Jan. 4.

Ramos, a Los Banos native, began working at the farm bureau as a program assistant last year, spearheading projects such as the Irrigated Lands Program, Farm News, and FARM2U Day.

“She embodies the spirit of the farm bureau mission and brings fresh energy and passion to our organization,” Priest said in an email statement about the leadership change.

Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477, bvaccari@mercedsun-star.com

 

 

Opinion

Redding Record Searchlight

Heritage Foundation: Property owners should beware new water rule

Property owners need to be on the alert. Thanks to a new federal water rule, they will need to watch how they use their property.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ new rule seeks to define what types of water “bodies” the agencies can regulate under the Clean Water Act. It tries to regulate almost any water possible, even what most people would consider to be land. For example, a man-made ditch could be a covered water body. Land could be a covered “stream” if it holds water after heavy rain.

This new rule will force property owners to secure far more permits to engage in ordinary activities such as farming, assuming they can even afford the permits in the first place. From the farmer who wants to build a fence to a county that wants to protect public safety through critical infrastructure, the rule could create serious obstacles.

ly moving dirt that then falls into a water body, even under existing law, could trigger the need for a permit. There doesn’t even have to be environmental harm. Imagine how many permits could be required when almost everything looks like a water in the eyes of the EPA and Corps under this rule.

There has been long-standing confusion regarding what types of water bodies are covered under the Clean Water Act. However, instead of developing a clear bright-line rule that is consistent with the Clean Water Act, the EPA and Corps have tried to improperly expand their powers. In little more than decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has twice struck down the agencies’ power grabs. This new rule is worse than what they tried before and is so vague and subjective that many property owners may not even know that they could be violating the law.

Opposition to this rule isn’t the same as opposing clean water, like the EPA has tried to suggest in inappropriate and controversial social media campaigns to gin up support for the rule. Everybody wants clean water. Excessive federal government intervention shouldn’t be confused with sound environmental policy.

Ironically, the new rule is bad for the environment. The Clean Water Act expressly says that states are to take the lead when it comes to implementing the law. The EPA and Corps, though, have simply decided that bureaucrats in Washington don’t need to follow the Clean Water Act and are smarter than state and local officials.

There’s a reason why states should play a leading role. They know their natural resources better than Washington and how best to achieve tailored solutions to specific challenges.

 

Not surprisingly, there’s bipartisan opposition to this new rule (for various reasons). Attorneys general and agencies from at least 31 states are suing the federal government over the rule.

Even environmental groups are suing. The Corps itself, as late as a couple of weeks before the rule was released, was savagely criticizing the rule and documents supporting its findings.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a stay that blocks implementation of the rule on a nationwide basis. However, this stay could be lifted. The House and Senate have passed different legislation to repeal the rule, but they need to pass the same bill to get legislation to the president.

While President Barack Obama may veto the bill, Congress needs to do whatever it can. In the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2016, Congress can also withhold any funds that would be used to implement the rule.

If the rule is repealed, it puts an end to this egregious rule, not to the need for clarity regarding the scope of the Clean Water Act. Congress should define what waters are to be covered and stop passing the buck to unaccountable government officials. There would also be nothing stopping the agencies from starting over to get things right.

This new rule creates confusion, not clarity, ignores the role of states, and guts property rights. Our environment and our fellow citizens deserve better.

Daren Bakst is a research fellow specializing in agricultural policy in The Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. Don Parrish is senior director for congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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