Tuesday, May 10, 2016
California looks at easing drought cuts after wet winter
By Ellen Knickmeyer
SAN FRANCISCO – California will consider lifting a mandatory statewide water conservation order for cities and towns after a rainy, snowy winter eased the state’s five-year drought, water officials said Monday.
But an executive order by Gov. Jerry Brown would make permanent some of the measures adopted to deal with the current drought, including prohibitions against excessive water use while washing cars and watering lawns.
Members of the state Water Resources Control Board — czars of the state’s drought emergency program — will decide May 18 whether to remove the 11-month-old statewide order for mandatory water use cuts. The conservation effort required at least 20 percent water conservation overall by most of the water districts serving California’s nearly 40 million people.
Cities and water agencies that can prove they have enough water to get by if the wet winter proves a blip, and drought continues another three years, would be able to get out from under a mandatory conservation target. The rest would be required to save enough water to cover that longer-term drought shortfall.
“This is not a time to start using water like it’s 1999 … this year could simply be a punctuation mark in a mega-drought,” warned Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state water board.
California residents had achieved a nearly 25 percent overall cut in water use, saving an amount of water that would supply 17 percent of the state’s population for a year. Water districts paid families to rip out water-thirsty lawns and tried name-and-shame techniques for celebrities and others who failed to conserve.
But the state has been under pressure from water agencies to relax conservation requirements after snowfall and rain returned to nearly normal in some parts of the state this year.
Brown, who ordered the conservation in April 2015 at the worst of California’s driest four-year stretch in history, made clear Monday that conservation must continue even if the statewide target is lifted.
With climate change, “we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life,” Brown said in a statement.
The actions by the governor and state water officials “are making permanent the idea that conservation programs are not a drought-only policy,” said Peter Gleick, president of the California-based Pacific Institute think-tank on water policy. “Even without a drought emergency, we have to do a better job of monitoring and measuring and managing water. There’s just not enough of it anymore for everybody.”
Gleick said he was concerned by the state’s emphasis now on turning more conservation decisions back to local water districts, saying state water authorities would need to monitor closely to make sure local water agencies were working in the best interests of the state as a whole.
Under Brown’s order, the state’s roughly 400 water districts would be required to keep reporting their monthly water use, a requirement laid down last summer.
Water-wasting practices, such as letting lawn sprinklers send water streaming into the street or washing cars in the driveway without a shut-off nozzle on the hose, would be banned permanently.
Brown’s order also requires more intensive drought planning by both urban water districts and by farms, and directs state water officials to prepare new water restrictions in case the drought carries into 2017.
Agriculture was exempted from the statewide mandatory cutback order but many rural water districts serving farms saw their water allotments cut.
A strong El Nino brought Northern California winter storms that have filled water reservoirs in that part of the state higher than in most years, and laid down Sierra Nevada snowpack that is vital to the state’s year-round water supply.
But nearly 90 percent of California remains in moderate drought or worse. Southern California overall is heading deeper into, not out of, the fifth year of drought, the government’s U.S. Drought Monitor said last week.
“We got a reprieve” thanks to El Nino, Marcus, the water board chairwoman, said Monday. With climate change already making California hotter and drier long-term, “We need to use this moment wisely to prepare for the years ahead.”
Wall Street Journal
FDA Seeks to Redefine ‘Healthy’
By Annie Gasparro
What’s healthier than a Pop-Tart?
Not almonds, according to today’s regulatory rules. That could change as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration kicks off a review of the 1990s official definition of “healthy” at the urging of food companies and lawmakers.
The U.S. regulator is planning to ask the public as well as food experts for comment on what should be the modern definition of healthy, setting off a process that could take years to complete. But the decision to redefine the term marks a major step in the FDA’s effort to catch up to changing ideas about health and eating habits.
The FDA said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal that in light of evolving nutrition research and other forthcoming food-labeling rules, “we believe now is an opportune time to re-evaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term ‘healthy.’ ”
The agency also noted a petition filed by Kind LLC. The maker of fruit-and-nut bars started campaigning for change after being sent a warning letter by the agency last year ordering it to stop using the term “healthy” on its packaging. The FDA rescinded that demand last month, though Kind made other tweaks to its labels based on the FDA’s missive.
Food can only be marketed as healthy if it meets five criteria: fat, saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol and beneficial nutrients, such as vitamin C or Calcium. The levels differ by food category, but snacks generally can’t have more than 3 grams of fat.
When the term “healthy” was first officially defined in 1994, low fat content was the main focus of health professionals. Sugar wasn’t on the FDA’s, or most nutritionists,’ radar.
Kellogg Co. doesn’t generally market its Frosted Flakes or low-fat Pop-Tarts as “healthy,” but under the current guidelines, it could. While the foods are high in sugar, they meet all the criteria, from low fat to fortified with vitamins. And fat-free pudding cups can be marketed as healthy, but avocados couldn’t because they have too much fat, according to today’s rules.
Kellogg declined to comment.
Ideas about health, in particular “healthy fat,” have changed.
“Scientific evidence now clearly points to the type of fat, not just the amount of fat, that we consume as the key,” said Connie Diekman, registered dietitian and nutrition director for Washington University in St. Louis.
Sales of low-fat foods have fallen, as consumers are buying more gluten-free or all-natural items. Even the regulators have said in new dietary guidelines issued this year that consumers should eat more salmon and nuts as sources of protein for a healthy diet, yet neither food meets the FDA’s criteria for “healthy.”
That is, “in a word, nuts!” said David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. “The problem, of course, is that the foodscape can change quickly, but FDA regulations change very slowly.”
The FDA has grappled with a number of label questions in recent years. Regulators are set to announce their first definition of the term “natural” after several food brands were sued by consumers for claiming their foods were natural.
The FDA last year issued a ban on partially-hydrogenated oils, or trans fats, after years of advocacy groups lobbying for their removal.
Kind petitioned the FDA to change its definition of healthy after receiving its warning letter and garnered support from doctors and dietitians such as Mr. Katz, as well as some lawmakers.
“We very much hope the FDA will change the definition of healthy, so that you don’t end up in a silly situation where a toaster pastry or sugary cereal can be considered healthy and a piece of salmon or bunch of almonds cannot,” said Kind Chief Executive Daniel Lubetzky in an interview.
Congress is also pushing the FDA to make this issue a priority. In the House of Representatives’ report explaining its agriculture appropriations bill, the committee urges the FDA to update the regulations. The bill passed and awaits a vote on the House floor.
The FDA recently agreed to allow Kind to continue using the phrase “healthy and tasty” on its bars, saying that because the phrase is in the descriptive paragraph outlining Kind’s philosophy, it doesn’t count as a nutrient claim.
If the FDA changes its definition of healthy for everyone else, it likely will first propose updating the “healthy” definition, followed by a comment period in which food makers and the public can submit their ideas and research on what “healthy” means.
Then comes the FDA’s proposed rule change, another comment period, the final rule, and an implementation period, to give food makers a chance to comply. The process typically takes several years. Some of the costs of manufacturers could go toward changing ingredients and hiring lawyers and lobbyists to keep up with the changing rule.
It will serve as a test case for the broader issue of outdated regulations around nutrition claims, said Dr. Walter Willett, nutrition professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s time that the FDA reviewed the rules for health claims, and this is a good nudge to do so,” he said.
Write to Annie Gasparro at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wall Street Journal
U.S. Challenges China Over Chicken as Trade Friction Rises
Obama administration demands that China open its market to U.S. chicken
By WILLIAM MAULDIN
The Obama administration filed a trade complaint against China Tuesday over access to the Asian giant’s market for U.S. chicken, the latest friction point in an election year that is casting a harsh light on U.S. economic ties with China.
Washington is demanding China open its market to U.S. chicken, especially the chicken feet enjoyed in Asia, or face potential trade sanctions. The latest filing with the World Trade Organization accuses China of not removing chicken tariffs that the Geneva-based trade body previously ruled were improperly applied.
“Based on our review, it’s clear to us that China is ignoring the rules, and that’s unacceptable,” said Mike Froman, the U.S. trade representative, at a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill. “By breaking those commitments, China’s actions tilt the playing field further against hardworking Americans.”
The skirmish over chicken exports comes as the Obama administration steps up enforcement of trade rules against Beijing and other countries in hopes to winning more congressional support for its signature Pacific trade agreement. The administration has brought 21 challenges since 2009 to the WTO, 12 of them targeting Beijing’s practices.
Some U.S. efforts appear to be gaining traction. Last month, Washington said China had ended an incentive program that effectively subsidized exports from small firms, a year after a WTO challenge.
U.S. officials have also threatened Beijing with unspecified trade measures if it doesn’t agree to reduce steel production.
The 2016 campaign season has sharpened the rhetoric on trade and raised pressure on U.S. officials and politicians. Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has repeatedly bashed previous trade deals and threatened Beijing with across-the-board tariffs. He and his likely Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, have rejected the proposed Pacific trade pact in its current form, and the trade agreement appears unlikely to gain sufficient support in Congress soon.
President Barack Obama and his advisers have backed strict adherence to a rules-based trading system as a way of encouraging China and other major emerging markets to play ball in international commerce. But critics of the administration’s trade policy say WTO cases can result in remedies that are too small or too late for American companies, and some—including Mr. Trump—have called for imposing immediate, unilateral barriers or tariffs to solve disputes. The U.S. imports $482 billion in Chinese goods last year, compared with $116 billion in U.S. exports.
The chicken compliance proceedings are the latest in a six-year battle over Beijing’s duties on so-called broiler products from the U.S. In 2013, U.S. officials announced they had defeated China in a WTO case over the U.S. chicken duties, which were meant to punish American poultry producers for allegedly selling products below fair value with the help of subsidies.
‘I want the Chinese to eat more chicken.’
—Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.)
But China has retained significant tariffs on chicken, effectively shutting U.S. producers out of what was one of their biggest overseas markets, and one that is expected to grow as China’s swelling middle class consumes more protein.
China’s tariffs affect all relevant chicken products coming from the U.S., regardless of whether the company that produces them is based in the U.S. or elsewhere.
The U.S. exported just 15 million pounds of chicken, turkey and eggs to China last year, compared with 729 million pounds in 2009, before the tariffs on U.S. chicken took effect, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The National Chicken Council and the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council on Tuesday applauded the renewed efforts to reduce or eliminate the Chinese tariffs. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. and Tyson Foods Inc. could benefit if China’s market opens down the road.
“I want the Chinese to eat more chicken,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican of Georgia, the biggest chicken-producing state.
If Washington and Beijing fail to come to an agreement, the latest WTO proceeding could end in China paying compensation or in unrelated trade sanctions, according to people following the case.
A spokesman for China’s embassy in Washington didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on the case.
Write to William Mauldin at email@example.com
National Public Radio
Why Many Midwestern Farmers Are Pro-TPP
By Kristofor Husted
Turn on the TV and you can barely escape the acronym TPP.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a free trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other countries that’s currently being negotiated. Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle are deriding the TPP, saying it’s a bum deal that will hurt the U.S. economy and especially low-wage workers.
But if you venture into the Midwest and ask a farmer about the TPP, you’re likely to get a different answer.
“This pending TPP trade negotiation, to me, is hugely important for agricultural commodities, but specifically for beef,” says Mike John, a cattle rancher in Huntsville, Mo. He’s one of many Midwest farmers and ranchers who are bucking the political trend to dog the TPP.
A coalition of more than 200 agriculture groups recently drafted an open letter urging congressional leaders to approve the TPP, saying the trade deal will help U.S. farmers stay competitive in an increasingly crowded world market.
Free trade agreements remove tariffs on products we import, but also on food grown here that we export to other markets. That opens the door to get more beef, soybeans and rice into other countries at more competitive prices.
John says the TPP could ultimately put money in farmers’ pockets by allowing them better access to consumers in Asian countries with a taste for American beef.
“The Asian markets are showing a huge increase in demand for beef,” he says. “In particular, the grain-fed U.S. beef is highly prized in places where that beef demand is growing.”
The 11 countries along the Pacific Rim that are parties in the TPP already take in more than 40 percent of American agricultural exports. That’s worth a whopping $63 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The TPP could add an additional $3 billion to that figure.
Many beef producers, like John, want to see the TPP ratified because it is designed to cut tariffs in countries like Japan, which has historically been highly protective of its domestic markets.
“So it’s not necessarily that we need to get into those markets. We just need to have fair access so that we can compete with the other global suppliers of beef,” John says.
Indeed, agricultural policy analyst Julian Binfield at the University of Missouri says not sealing the deal could leave U.S. farmers at a global disadvantage.
“If TPP is not signed, then some other countries might write their own agreement,” he says. “Maybe it’s partners in the TPP like Australia and New Zealand — they’re writing bilateral agreements all the time. Maybe they get expansion.”
Binfield says if the U.S. doesn’t pass the TPP, countries like Australia and New Zealand could make their own deals with each other, excluding the U.S. That could mean less trade access overall for U.S. producers.
But there’s another issue casting a long shadow over TPP negotiations: China. China is not a part of the trade deal. But pro-TPP interests say agreements like this one prevent China from setting global trade rules in its own interest.
Binfield says in the overall strategy, the U.S. wants to make sure China – which is a massive economic power – doesn’t have the chance to dictate the trade rules for Asia. The U.S. wants to set the trade standards.
All of this is not to say that all farmers are campaigning for the TPP. Despite their current advocacy for the trade deal, none of the country’s largest agricultural trade groups call the TPP an unmitigated victory.
The National Farmers Union actively opposes the deal. The organization of mostly smaller farmers contends that the agreement would hurt the broader economy, which could spell trouble for farmers.
“It’s not that we’re opposed to trade. It’s not that we don’t want more agricultural trade,” says Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. But Johnson says he’s worried that free trade deals make it more likely that big companies will move jobs overseas. That can hurt the U.S. market for food and, in turn, hurt farmers that depend on off-farm income. He’s worried we import more than we export and feed the ballooning trade deficit.
“If [the trade deficit] grows, if it gets worse as a result of this agreement, just like it has as a result of earlier agreements, then what have we gained? We just haven’t made a meaningful step forward,” he says.
President Obama has championed the TPP and set his sights on getting the deal approved before he leaves office. For that to happen, Congress will have to approve it, but neither the Senate nor the House have set a date for review.
This story is part of NPR’s A Nation Engaged conversation about trade. Visit npr.org to see more. It comes to us from Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaboration that focuses on agriculture and food production.
California prepares for wildfire season as Alberta blaze rages
By Jeff Daniels
El Nino-fueled storms have brought some relief to drought-parched California this year, but the central and southern portions of the state, as well as the Sierra Nevada foothills in the north remain at high risk, according to experts. The state’s peak wildfire season comes in late July or August, with the hot, dry conditions, although the danger will last well into the fall months.
California last year “had two of the top-10 most devastating fires in the state’s history — very similar conditions to what’s occurring in Canada right now,” said Ken Pimlott, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CalFire). “There’s drought-induced tree mortality and we have just critically parched, dry vegetation, all (resulting in) just explosive fire conditions.”
State and federal officials estimate there are 29 million dead trees throughout the Sierra Nevada mountain range. “There are a lot of trees that have died because of long-term drought and maybe some bugs as well,” said Heath Hockenberry, National Weather Service’s national fire weather program manager.
Last fall, two mega-fires brought death and destruction to Northern California. Together, the so-called Butte and Valley fires caused an estimated $2 billion in damage, destroyed 1,830 homes, and left six people dead. Nearly 150,000 acres were burned in five counties of the state, and some wineries and vineyards were lost or damaged.
“The fire risk potential is quite high, particularly in Central and Southern California, where either the hope for El Nino rains didn’t really come but there were enough rains to cause more brush to grow and chaparral to grow,” said Mark Bove, a senior research meteorologist for Munich Reinsurance America. “What will happen as they go into the dry season is all that new growth and greenery will dry out and it will just end up being more fuel for potential fires later this summer and autumn.”
Stanton Florea, a Vallejo, California-based spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said Southern California’s “fire danger is starting off here in May. It is expected to be busier than normal down there.”
There was a reminder Friday of the region’s brush-fire risk when a small blaze scorched dry hillsides in San Dimas, a community located about 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles The blaze was put out by the L.A.County Fire Department before reaching the nearby Angeles National Forest.
Overall, 2016 looks to be “closer to an average year for us than we’ve had in five or six years,” said the U.S. Forest Service official. The roughly 20 million acres that the agency manages “will not begin to see bigger campaign fires for some time,” since there’s still snow on the ground in some higher elevation areas.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the US…
Other parts of the country are forecast to have elevated fire risk this season, too.
The Southwest and Southern states, as well as Alaska and Hawaii, will have “above-normal significant wildland fire potential,” with the risk starting as early as this month in some places, according to a wildfire outlook issued May 1 by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho. “Normal significant wild land fire potential is expected for the Northern Rockies. Significant wild land fire potential is expected to transition from above normal back to normal over the Appalachians in May due to increasing moisture and green-up.”
Preparations are already underway to test the readiness of fire crews and aerial firefighting equipment out west.
In Colorado, Global SuperTanker’s “Spirit of John Muir,” a Boeing 747 converted into the world’s largest aerial fire-fighting plane, launched Thursday, and news media were given demonstrations at the Colorado Springs Airport. The 747 is capable of carrying up about 20,000 gallons of water or retardant.
“We’re fully prepared for fire season,” said Florea, the U.S. Forest Service spokesman. For the 2016 fire season, the agency has “helitack” crews and 21 air tankers available in the western United States. They could boost that number up to 29 with eight military C-130’s.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County will have two Bombardier CL-415 Superscooper fire-fighting aircraft on loan from the government of Quebec starting in the fall for wildfire suppression, as well as the county’s own fleet of helicopters. The county plans to stage extra strike teams in the field this season and place them in higher fire risk areas such as Malibu and Santa Clarita. In February, Malibu had a wildfire with some crews on the lines composed of state prisoners, including one female inmate firefighter who died as a result of injuries suffered while battling the blaze.
The Oakland firestorm in 1991 remains the nation’s costliest wildfire in dollar terms, totaling a $3 billion loss when adjusted to today’s dollars, according to insurance industry data. The fires, which took place during a drought year and in the hillsides above the East San Francisco Bay city, killed 25 people and destroyed 2,843 homes and more than 430 apartments.
Klamath Falls Herald and News
Comments sought on Klamath Basin Refuge Complex plan
By Lacey Jarrell
A 15-year management plan for the Klamath Basin Refuge Complex is now available for public comment.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) developed the plan, called the Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (CCP/EIS), for Lower Klamath, Clear Lake, Tule Lake, Upper Klamath, and Bear Valley national wildlife refuges.
The document is available for a 45-day public review and comment period. Written comments must be received on or before June 20, a news release said.
A open house will be May 23 at the Klamath Falls Shilo Inn. USFWS staff will be available for discussion and to answer questions from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 8 p.m. Presentations will be given at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., the release said.
The document provides refuge managers with a 15-year plan for achieving refuge goals, consistent with sound principles of fish and wildlife management, conservation, legal mandates, and policies. The document also identifies wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities, including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, education and interpretation.
The CCP is designed to provide a clear statement of direction for refuge management, to give the public an opportunity to shape management strategies, and to evaluate existing refuge uses to ensure they are compatible with refuge goals and the maintenance of biological integrity, diversity and environmental health, the document said.
The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 required USFWS to develop and implement a CCP for each unit within the national wildlife refuge system. Under the act, all plans were supposed to be completed by Oct. 9, 2012.
Klamath Basin refuges consist of a variety of habitats, including marshes and open water, meadows, forests and grasslands, the document said. Each year the refuges serve as a migratory stopover for about three-quarters of the Pacific Flyway waterfowl, with peak fall concentrations of over 1 million bird, and more than 430 species have been observed on or near the refuges.
Find the draft document online at www.regulations.gov. The docket number FWS-R8-FWRS0 2016-0063 and it can be viewed at http://1.usa.gov/1TOWrrR.
Printed copies of the CCP may be viewed Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 4009 Hill Road, Tulelake, CA, and at local libraries.