URGENT: Calls Needed from Grangers to Support Votes by House and Senate on Highway Trust Fund

actionalertBACKGROUND

As you might have read, the Highway Trust Fund, federally funded by an 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax, starts running out of funds this August. The Highway Trust fund gas tax has not been raised in more than 20 years and the rate of revenue increase has fallen behind as vehicles have become more fuel efficient, creating a $16 billion shortfall.

Agriculture depends on a well maintained road infrastructure to get farm products to market and food distribution to consumers. For a while, it looked as though Congress would punt until the November/December lame duck session to tackle funding, essentially stopping nearly 30% of current active road projects by September. A bipartisan sense of urgency seems to be growing and both the Senate and House are moving bills through their respective committees led by Senate Finance Chairman Wyden (D-OR) and House Ways and Means Chairman Camp (R-MI).

Last week, the Senate Finance Committee yielded to Republican demands and have agree to provide $10 billion to keep the highway trust fund (HTF) solvent until into 2015.  This is in line with the timeframe of the House Ways and Means Committee.  This timeframe will allow time for longer term solutions for HTF to be considered by the new Congress and will remove some of the political partisan jockeying that is skewing policy issues the rest of this year. The House will likely have the legislation on the floor calendar sometime later this week. The Senate has not calendared it yet, but will likely move on it within the week to 10 days. That’s important because the bills have several other differences that must be resolved in a Senate-House Conference Committee, then the Conference Report goes to both chambers for final passage before HTF can be sent to the President to sign , who has indicated he has not hesitation in signing such legislation. There’s barely enough time for all these procedure before the five-week recess begins August 1.

GRANGE POLICY

“The National Grange strongly supports the continuation and reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). We support removing the HTF from the federal budget. We oppose any proposal that would change the concept of dedicating all federal motor fuel taxes to the HTF to be used for highway and highway related purposes. The National Grange supports the creation of a Federal Mass Transportation Trust Fund from user tax revenues separate from the HTF and highway user taxes. The National Grange opposes increasing the federal gasoline tax for purposes other than the HTF and reaffirms its position that all funds received from highway fuel taxes be used only for construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. The federal and state governments should not use these funds to balance their budgets or fund other programs.  We oppose impounding HTF monies as a means of enforcement of federal laws.”

- Page 267, 2013 Journal of Proceedings

CALL TO ACTION (Please call immediately.  July 17 is too late!)

We need you to call your SENATORS and REPRESENTATIVES and urge them to push their leadership for floor action on the HTF short-term financing bill THIS WEEK.

Make sure to tell them it is important to maintain provisions in the bills to fund the HTF into 2015 and ASK THEM TO VOTE IN FAVOR OF THE HIGHWAY TRUST FUND BILL when it comes to the floor.

Remind them that you are calling as a Grange member, an organization whose more than 160,000 members support the continuation and reauthorization of the HTF and would like to stay updated on their action.

Advocate for Full Funding For MAP & FMD

BACKGROUND

actionalertThank you for your efforts to contact your member of the U.S. House of Representatives to vote in favor of funding two of USDA’s most important initiatives, the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program and the Market Access Program (MAP).  MAP was funded under the most recent Farm Bill at $200 M per year. FMD was funded under the recent Farm Bill at $34.5 M per year. Unfortunately, both are subject to a 7% reduction by the sequester (= ~185 M and =~28 M respectively) and Congress has allowed funds to be spent for administrative costs of the program (such as salaries of employees), not just the marketing of ag products and market development itself.

These initiatives create partnerships between USDA and the private sector to gain access into foreign countries for American farm products and to promote these products to new consumers abroad.  Most of these are value-added customer goods such as dairy, beef, pork, poultry, fresh produce and food service.   MAP and FMD have been major factors in America’s trade success story in recent years and agricultural exports are important to our economy. Continued support of these programs in the face of stiffer competition to develop markets in fast-growing nations by many member countries of the EU – who spent $700 M in public funds on export promotion for agri-food products in 2011 compared to our $256 M – is vitally important.

It is possible that Rep. Chabot (R-OH) may offer an amendment that would reduce funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) by $50 million.On Tuesday, June 17 the House will return to debating and voting on amendments to the FY ’15 agriculture appropriations bill which funds MAP and FMD for the next fiscal year Oc. 1, 2014 through Sept. 30, 2015.

 

GRANGE POLICY

“The National Grange Supports integrating and coordinating existing stat and federal governments’ export marketing programs, such as the Market Access Program and Market Promotion Program, and other similar programs that were designed to develop and expand foreign markets for U.S. farm products.” (National Grange Policy, 2012 Journal of Proceedings, page 206)


CALL TO ACTION (URGENT – Deadline Monday, June 16 at 5 p.m. EST)

Call your Representative in Washington. (FIND THEIR CONTACT INFORMATION) Tell him/her foreign markets are important to American agriculture.  Ask your Representative to VOTE

1) FOR the foreign market funding levels in the bill and
2) AGAINST any amendments which would reduce foreign market funding.


SUGGESTED TALKING POINT FOR GRANGERS TO CONGRESS

“Agriculture has had a continuous positive trade surplus for more than FIVE DECADES, the only industry to make such a claim,  That surplus means adding money to the American economy, not just the 1% of our population who are growers or 16% of Americans who live in rural areas.

“For every $1 spent by the government for these programs, it’s been shown that there is an average increase of $35 in exports.  In fact, for the wheat sector alone there is a $1:$115 ratio of dollars spent using MAP or FMD to dollars returned to the U.S. economy.  That’s a huge impact for programs that we know to be well-run and administered and we hope both programs and all others under the Foreign Agricultural Service that do similar things for our ag producers and local communities can be fully funded.”


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Looking just at MAP, we can see many areas positively impacted. For information specific to FMD, please contact Amanda Leigh Brozana at abrozana@nationalgrange.org.

MAP HELPS BOOST U.S. AGRICULTURAL EXPORTS

  • The export forecast for FY 14 is estimated to be approximately $142.6 billion, which would surpass by $1.7 billion the all-time record level of $140.9 billion achieved in FY 13. Since the program was created in 1985, U.S. agricultural exports have increased by nearly 500 percent. (Source USDA)
  • Agriculture’s trade surplus was $32.4 billion in FY 12, $37.1 billion in FY 13 and is forecast to be $32.6 billion for FY 14. (Source USDA) Agriculture is still one of the few sectors of the American economy to enjoy a trade surplus, and without it the overall U.S. trade deficit would be even worse.
  • An updated study of MAP and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program done by IHS Global Insight showed that the increase in market development spending by government and industry during the 2002-09 period through these programs considerably increased U.S. export market share and increased the annual value of U.S. agricultural exports by $6.1 billion. Multiyear impact of the increased market development spending is equal to $35 in agricultural export gains for every additional $1 expended, a 35 to 1 return on investment. (Source: A Cost Benefit Analysis of USDA’s International Market Development Programs, IHS Global Insight (USA), Inc., March 2010).
  • World trade growth is expected to increase in 2014, and a lower dollar (compared to 2000-10) and lower production costs will likely keep U.S. agricultural products competitively priced. This reinforces the need for valuable programs, such as MAP, that help create, expand, and maintain international markets for U.S. agricultural products.

MAP PROTECTS AMERICAN JOBS AND INCREASES FARM INCOME

  • Serves as a “BUY AMERICAN” program by promoting only American-grown and produced commodities.
  • Given U.S. agricultural exports are forecast to be $142.6 billion in FY 14, about 1 million Americans will have jobs that depend on these exports, thanks in part to MAP and related programs that have helped boost U.S. agricultural exports. (Source USDA)
  • An updated USDA-commissioned study of MAP and FMD shows that over the 2002-09 period export gains associated with the programs increased the average annual level of U.S. farm cash receipts by $4.4 billion and net cash farm income by $1.5 billion. The study also shows that U.S. domestic farm support payments were reduced by roughly $54 million annually due to higher prices from increased demand abroad, thus reducing the net cost of the programs. (Source: A Cost Benefit Analysis of USDA’s International Market Development Programs, IHS Global Insight (USA), Inc., March 2010).

MAP HELPS COUNTER SUBSIDIZED FOREIGN COMPETITION

  • U.S. farmers and ranchers are competing in a very active international agri-food trade environment with many countries that invest significant public and private funds according to a major study* completed last year on behalf of several U.S. agri-food export market development organizations. (Source: An Analysis of Competitor Countries’ Market Development Programs, Agralytica Consulting, June 2013)
  • The study found that together in 2011, 12 countries and the EU central government alone spent an estimated $1.8 billion, including $700 million in public funds and $1.1 billion in private funds, on export promotion for agri-food products. For comparison, in 2011, the total U.S. export promotion public expenditure was $256 million. Compared to agricultural production value, the U.S. public spending on export market development is among the lowest relative to these 12 nations.
  • Eliminating or reducing funding for MAP in the face of continued highly subsidized international competition would put American farmers and workers at a substantial competitive disadvantage.
  • Market development, including programs such as MAP, is not expected to be subject to World Trade Organization (WTO) disciplines. Reducing our investments in market promotion while our competitors continue to increase theirs will put our producers at a decided disadvantage in competing for international sales.

MAP ILLUSTRATES SUCCESSFUL PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP

  • MAP is administered on a reimbursable cost-share basis, specifically targeting small businesses, farmer cooperatives, and non-profit trade organizations. While government is an important partner in this effort, industry contributions are now estimated to represent over 60% of total annual spending on market development and promotion, up from roughly 45% in 1996 and less than 30% in 1991, which demonstrates industry commitment to the effort (Source USDA). Without the incentive of MAP funding through this important cost-share program, it is highly unlikely that private funds could be attracted to form a strategic and coordinated U.S. agricultural export promotion effort.

Waters of the United States

issuebriefThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) have officially published their proposed regulation to redefine and expand the scope of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act. This proposal changes the term “navigable waters” to essentially mean all “Waters of the United States.” The general public has been given an extension on the initial 90-day comment period and may now make comments until Oct. 20, 2014 to provide the agencies feedback, questions and concerns about the proposal.

The effect of the joint agencies’ proposal is to expand jurisdiction and assert new regulatory authority over non-navigable waters, seasonal flows, wetlands, seeps, intermittent streams and wetlands, isolated ponds, isolated marshes, pot holes, playa lakes, flood plains and additional “waters” with no direct connection to navigable waterways. These waters previous have not been regulated under the Clean Water Act. Farmers, land developers and governors worried about drought management are accusing the federal government of a new round of regulatory overreach. Intense debate has developed around land use, economic impact, states’ rights and the abuse of presidential power.

EPA’s draft scientific assessment that is used as a basis to justify the proposed rule, is still being reviewed by the agency. This assessment draft is not public and will not be finalized until the end of 2014 or early 2015. EPA says the regulation will not be finalized until after the peer reviewed scientific assessment is fully complete and it will take into account the public’s comments. However this time frame will not provide the public a chance to scrutinize EPA’s draft scientific assessment in their comments. As a result, a number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling on the Administration to withdraw the proposed rule to allow the public to digest the pending scientific assessment after it is released. Farm groups, commodity organizations and landowners are asking EPA to give the public at least six months to review the rule’s impacts rather than the three months provided.

Further complicating agriculture’s concern with EPA’s proposal is an accompanying “interpretative rule” which claims to clarify exemptions for “normal farming and ranching“ practices under the proposed regulation. After deeper analysis of the interpretative rule, agriculture is even more concerned with what may or may not be subject to the proposed regulation. Many of the list of 56 exempted practices are extremely common (fencing, grazing, brush management for example) and have never been considered outside the statutory exemption. The fear is that once defined in statute, these practices could become regulated under the Clean Water Act in the future. To qualify for future exemptions, practices must comply with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) technical standards; farmers who employ good practices without the need for NRCS compliance may not benefit from future exemptions. The proposal narrows the definition of normal farming operation to mean ongoing farming activity since the 1970’s; newer farms, those that have ceased operation for a while then resumed, and farms that switched from one crop to another may find themselves disqualified for future exemptions.


GRANGE POSITION

“The Grange recognizes the importance of and protection of all watersheds … The National Grange opposes any mandate that suggests all watersheds are to meet the same water quality standards.” (National Grange Conservation Committee Policy Statement, Legislative Policy and Priorities Booklet, 2013 Edition)


ACTION ALERT

Farmers, ranchers and landowners have the opportunity to infuse some common sense into the government’s proposed redefinition and expansion of the definition of “navigable waters” to include all “Waters of the United States.” Be sure to file your comments before October 20 and encourage your friends, neighbors and fellow landowners to submit comments as well.

Make these points (as applicable) in your comments:

  • Briefly describe your operation (where you are located, what you produce, stewardship practices, family history on the land, etc.).
  • Private landowners are responsible managers of the water, land, air, animals, wildlife and other natural resources under their stewardship.
  • Overregulation by the federal government to dictate land use practices stifles individual creativity, productivity, incentive and sense of stewardship.
  • Significantly expanding the definition of “Waters of the United States” to include ditches, remote waters, seeps, and drainages that flow only when it rains could bring your land under EPA regulation.
  • The term “water” as defined in the proposed regulation does not solely refer to water contained in aquatic systems, but also refers to whole watersheds that drain into the nearest “water “as defined by the new regulation.
  • EPA’s so-called exemptions will not protect producers and landowners from regulation under the proposed rule.
  • Economic growth and activity in rural communities will be adversely affected.
  • The interpretative rule narrows normal farming exemptions and ties practices to mandatory technical compliance with what used to be voluntary Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) technical standards.
  • The EPA and Corps of Engineers have not adequately demonstrated the need to regulate all waters on all agricultural lands.
  • The proposed regulation is an end run around congressional intent and rulings by the Supreme Court.
  • Ask EPA to withdraw the proposed regulation in order to give the general public time to review EPA’s own scientific assessment set to be released after the public comment period closes. EPA should also review farmer, rancher and landowner comments before issuing any further water proposals.


SUBMITTING COMMENTS

Format:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Attention: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880

RE: Comments on the U.S. EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Guidance Regarding Definition of “Waters of the U.S.” Under the Clean Water Act. Docket No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880

To Whom It May Concern:

I write today as a member of the National Grange, a nonpartisan 147-year-old agriculture and rural advocacy organization with more than 160,000 members across the U.S. with deep concerns over the U.S. EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Guidance Regarding Definitions of “Waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act. The expanded definition has sprawling consequences, especially to America’s farmers and ranchers who provide food, fuel and fiber for our citizens and many in the global community, as well as landowners across the U.S.

Personally, I am concerned about this issue because (…).

I hope you will take this comment into consideration and use it as part of your rationale when withdrawing the proposed regulation.

Sincerely,

Your Name
Grange affiliation/hometown and state

Send To:

Via email Via mail delivery
Email address – EPA-docket@epa.gov
Subject line – EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880
Water Docket
Environmental Protection Agency
Mail Code 2822T
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington. DC 20460
Attention: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880