U.S. Revising GMO Regulations

Last week, Reuters writer Tom Miles reported that, “The United States is planning to revise its regulations on importing, transporting and releasing genetically modified organisms, it told the World Trade Organization in a filing published on Friday.

“The proposal from the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the first comprehensive revision of the regulations since they were established in 1987, aims to reduce the regulatory burden to reflect advances in genetic engineering and better understanding of plant pest risks, it said.

“‘This…would provide a clear, predictable, and efficient regulatory pathway for innovators, facilitating the development of new and novel genetically engineered organisms that are unlikely to pose plant pest risks,’ it said.”

The Reuters article stated that, “The new rules would exempt plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional techniques, since breeders are increasingly breeding GMOs that were indistinguishable from the original plant. One example being those that have been modified to introduce certain traits much more quickly than normal.

“APHIS said the proposed exemptions followed a statement in March 2018 by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, in which he pledged to allow innovation where there was no risk present.

“APHIS said it was seeking comments until August 5 but said there was no specified date for the new rules to be adopted or come into force.”

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Refining Industry Association Sues Executive Branch Over E15

Reuters News reported today that, “The main U.S. refining industry association said on Monday it sued to block the Trump administration’s effort to expand sales of higher ethanol blends of gasoline, arguing the move exceeded the administration’s authority.

“The legal challenge from the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) association escalated a battle between the oil and corn industries over the nation’s biofuel policy, which requires refiners to blend biofuels like corn-based ethanol into their gasoline, often at great expense.

“President Donald Trump had directed the Environmental Protection Agency to lift a summertime ban on the sale of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, called E15, in an effort to help farmers suffering from the U.S. trade war with China. The EPA unveiled its rule doing so on May 31.”

The Reuters article noted that, “AFPM asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the EPA’s rule, in papers filed on Monday, said Diana Cronan, a spokeswoman for the group.

“AFPM has one month to provide the court with the outline of its case, she said.”

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EPA Administrator Hosts Interagency Endangered Species Act Working Group Meeting

A news release yesterday from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that, “[Thursday, EPA] Administrator Andrew Wheeler is hosting U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue, Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairman Mary B. Neumayr to discuss improving the Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultation process for pesticides.

“‘The Trump Administration is committed to carrying out the important responsibilities of the Endangered Species Act to protect and promote the recovery of species while recognizing that pesticides are a critical tool for protecting public health, supporting our farmers, and ensuring an abundant food supply,’ said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. ‘The goal of our Working Group is a streamlined ESA consultation process that is protective of species, timely for pesticide registration review decisions, and transparent to the public.’

“[Thursday’s] meeting is part of a coordinated federal effort, which was initiated in 2017 by senior staff at CEQ and EPA, to improve the process for protecting endangered species when registering pesticides. In January 2018, EPA, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Commerce signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) establishing an interagency working group tasked with providing recommendations to the agencies’ leadership on improving the ESA consultation process for pesticides. As part of this effort, in May 2019, EPA released for public comment proposed revised methods for evaluating pesticide risks to endangered species at the national level. EPA is seeking feedback from stakeholders on this issue and will hold a public meeting on Monday, June 10.”

Yesterday’s update indicated that, “The 2018 Farm Bill codified this interagency working group and MOA. Through the working group, the federal partners are continuing to review relevant laws and regulations, review current and past ESA processes, provide recommendations to improve scientific and policy approaches, develop agency/department specific strategies for streamlining the ESA process, and continuing to coordinate with stakeholders throughout the process.”

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Final EPA Rule Exempts Farms From Emissions Reporting

A news release this week from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) stated that, “The [NPPC] today applauded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for finalizing its rule exempting livestock farmers from reporting to state and local authorities the routine emissions from their farms.

“‘Today’s rule is the final piece in the implementation of the FARM Act, which passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support last year and eliminated the need for livestock farmers to estimate and report to the federal government emissions from the natural breakdown of manure,’ said NPPC President David Herring, and a pork producer from Lillington, North Carolina. ‘That bipartisan measure was approved because it was unnecessary and impractical for farmers to waste time and resources alerting government agencies that there are livestock on farms.’

The Fair Agricultural Reporting Method, or FARM Act, fixed a problem created in April 2017 when a U.S. Court of Appeals rejected a 2008 EPA rule that exempted farmers from reporting routine farm emissions under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Commonly known as the ‘Superfund Law,’ CERCLA is used primarily to clean hazardous waste sites but also includes a mandatory federal reporting component.”

The news update explained that, “The appeals court ruling would have forced tens of thousands of livestock farmers to ‘guesstimate’ and report the emissions from manure on their farms to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center and subjected them to citizen lawsuits from activist groups.”

“‘The pork industry wants regulations that are practical and effective but applying CERCLA and EPCRA to livestock farms is neither,’ Herring said. ‘Pork producers are very strong stewards of the environment and have taken many actions over the years to protect it.  We applaud President Trump for relieving America’s farmers from filing these unnecessary reports,’ he added.”

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Consolidation Reshaping the Agricultural Input Market

Jacob Bunge reported earlier this week at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Corteva Agriscience Inc.’s first day as a stand-alone company is a milestone in an agricultural deal making spree that has left the farm sector more consolidated than ever.

“The seed-and-pesticide maker, formed from the 2017 merger of Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co., began trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday as an independent entity. Corteva’s shares fell 8% in their first day of trading to $24.81, while shares in competing seed and pesticide makers climbed, and major U.S. stock indexes were little changed.

“Corteva’s debut follows Bayer AG’s $63 billion purchase last year of Monsanto, the biggest seed company, and Syngenta AG’s $43 billion sale to China National Chemical Corp., commonly known as ChemChina, in 2017.”

Mr. Bunge noted that, “That consolidation has reshaped the roughly $100 billion global market in seeds, pesticides and biotech plant genes, as low crop prices and trade disputes pressure farmers’ incomes. Some farmers say they worry that fewer providers will lead to higher prices and less choice. Democratic presidential candidates, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have called for a moratorium on further agricultural mergers and for the breakup of the biggest companies.

Seed makers pursued mergers to combine research efforts and cut costs, as the agriculture industry trudged through a period of low crop prices brought on by big harvests and growing grain stockpiles. Farmers are consolidating too, seeking to reduce their own costs and drive better bargains for crop seeds, fertilizer and tractors. U.S. net farm income in 2018 was half the 2013 total, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated.”

The Journal article added that, “Corteva, Bayer and ChemChina together now represent about $50 billion worth of seed and pesticide sales annually. Bayer and Corteva combined make up about 60% of U.S. seed sales, according to data compiled by Sanford C. Bernstein. Fertilizer suppliers, including Nutrien Ltd. and Mosaic Co., have struck their own multibillion-dollar merger deals in recent years.

“Corteva plans to ramp up competition with Bayer this year in genetically engineered seeds. This spring Corteva began selling farmers new biotech soybean seeds, partly developed by Dow, that can survive a herbicide known as 2,4-D.”

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Startups Move to Grab Electric Scooter-Sharing Market in Asia

Wall Street Journal writer Jake Maxwell Watts reported last week that, “Dozens of young companies burned through billions of dollars vying to dominate ride-hailing and bike-sharing in Asian megacities from Beijing to Jakarta. The race to transform urban transport is still on and now a fresh pileup looms—over electric scooters.

“The scooter-sharing industry is growing in U.S. cities and other developed markets such as Spain and France. As it moves to the Asia-Pacific region, local startups are moving early to grab market share, setting up a battle with global players like U.S.-based Lime.

Thirteen companies including Lime have applied for licenses to operate commercially in the city-state of Singapore, which they say is both an appealing market and a gateway to Southeast Asia, a region of 600 million people.”

The Journal article indicated that, “Some of the 13 already have begun operating in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia. China, which manufactures almost all the world’s electric scooters, has yet to see any significant growth in e-scooter sharing as transport providers there instead focus on the fast-growing markets for shared bicycles, and more recently, electric mopeds.

“Asia’s e-scooter market is nascent: It generates less than $10 million in annual revenues, according to India-based research firm Mobility Foresights, compared with about $315 million in the U.S. and $251 million in Europe.”

Last week’s article added that, “To many in the industry, the battle for dominance is reminiscent of ride-hailing, and some of the new startups are staffed or advised by ride-hailing veterans.

“Uber ultimately conceded defeat in both China and Southeast Asia, taking minority stakes in regional competitors Didi Chuxing and Grab Inc., respectively. The new e-scooter startups hope to emulate Grab’s success by understanding the needs of customers and regulators in a region that is less homogenous than Europe or the U.S.

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Program to Pay Minnesota Homeowners to Turn Their Lawns into Bee-Friendly Habitat

Minneapolis Star Tribune writer Greg Stanley reported last month that, “The state of Minnesota will help homeowners turn their lawns into bee-friendly habitat under a spending plan approved by the Legislature and sent this week to Gov. Tim Walz.

“The state will set aside $900,000 over one year to assist homeowners by covering much of the cost of converting traditional lawns by planting wildflowers, clover and native grasses in an effort to slow the collapse of the state’s bee population. The plan was trimmed down from the original House and Senate proposals, which would have provided funding for three years.

“The plan could help replenish food sources for pollinators of all kinds, but will specifically aim at saving the rusty patched bumblebee, a fat and fuzzy species on the brink of extinction that seems to be making its final stand in the cities of the Upper Midwest.”

The article noted that, “The program would cover up to 75% of the cost of each conversion project, and up to 90% in areas with a ‘high potential’ to support rusty patched bees.

Research at the University of Minnesota has shown that bumblebees are particularly important to the region. They land on flowering stems and vibrate at a frequency close to a musical C note, which unlocks pollen other insects can’t reach.”

“State Rep. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, who introduced the bill in the House, said she hopes it will be ready for residents by next spring,” the article said.

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EPA To Allow Year-Round Sale Of E15 Gasoline

A news release today from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that, “Today, [EPA] Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the final action that would remove the key regulatory barrier to using gasoline blended with up to 15% ethanol (E15) during the summer driving season and reform the renewable identification number (RIN) compliance system under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program to increase transparency and deter price manipulation. Taken together, these steps follow through on the Trump Administration’s commitment to responsible environmental protection that promotes energy independence, regulatory reform, and increasing the use of biofuels to give consumers more choices, while supporting American farmers.

“‘Following President Trump’s directive, today’s action expands the market for biofuels and improves the RFS program by increasing transparency and reducing price manipulation,’ said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. ‘As President Trump promised, EPA is approving the year-round sale of E15 in time for summer driving season, giving drivers more choices at the pump.’

“With today’s action, EPA is finalizing regulatory changes to apply the 1-psi Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) waiver that currently applies to E10 during the summer months so that it applies to E15 as well. This removes a significant barrier to wider sales of E15 in the summer months, thus expanding the market for ethanol in transportation fuel.”

The EPA update added that, “EPA is also finalizing regulatory changes to reform certain elements of the RIN compliance system of the RFS program to increase transparency and deter price manipulation in the RIN market. The reforms include requirements for public disclosure if a party’s RIN holdings exceed certain thresholds and additional data collections to improve EPA market monitoring capability. These new reforms will also help EPA continue to gather the information needed to decide whether further action is needed to ensure stability in the RIN market.”

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USDA Reminds Producers of Approaching Marketing Assistance Loan Deadlines

A recent news release from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “[FSA] Administrator Richard Fordyce reminds producers of the May 31, 2019, deadline to apply for crop year 2018 marketing assistance loans for feed grains, upland cotton, soybeans and minor oilseeds.

“‘These commodity loans provide short-term financing, allowing producers to meet interim cash flow needs and market their crops following a timeline that is the most advantageous,’ Fordyce said.

“These marketing assistance loans are considered nonrecourse, meaning they can either be redeemed by repaying the loan or delivering the pledged collateral – i.e., the crop – at loan maturity to the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) as full payment. In circumstances where the county commodity price falls below the county loan rate, producers may repay loans at less than loan rate (principal) plus accrued interest and other charges, therefore, receiving a market loan gain. Alternatively, producers who are eligible for marketing loans are also eligible for Loan Deficiency Payments (LDPs) should the county price fall below the county loan rate.”

The news update added that, “Producers can check their daily LDP rates online at fsa.usda.gov.

“‘Although many producers may have already marketed their 2018 crops, it’s not too soon to begin thinking about harvest and marketing decisions for your next crop,’ Fordyce said.

“To apply for a loan, contact your local FSA office. To find your local office visit farmers.gov. Additional information is available at fsa.usda.gov/pricesupport.”

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Court: EPA Failed to Follow Administrative Procedures Act on WOTUS Rule

DTN writer Todd Neeley reported today that, “The 2015 waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule may have suffered a final defeat, as a Texas court Tuesday granted a motion for summary judgement to the American Farm Bureau Federation that sends the rule back to EPA.

“The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled EPA violated the law in making changes in the final rule that were not proposed in the preliminary rule.

“‘The court finds that the final rule violated the notice-and-comment requirements of the APA (Administrative Procedures Act) and therefore grants summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs on this ground,’ the court said in its ruling.”

Mr. Neeley noted that, “In drafting the 2015 rule, EPA relied heavily on a so-called draft connectivity report that included the agency’s analysis of numerous studies on the connected nature of the nation’s waters.

“After an EPA scientific advisory board issued comments on the draft connectivity report on Oct. 24, 2014, the agency re-opened the public comment period on the rule for one month.

“‘However, the agencies declined to do the same after issuing the revised version of the connectivity report on Jan. 15, 2015,’ the court said in its ruling.”

The DTN article added that, “On April 3, 2019, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the Texas court to issue a national injunction on the 2015 WOTUS rule, after a court in Ohio denied a similar motion earlier this spring.

“After a long series of court actions the past couple of years, a split remains between states still under jurisdiction of the 2015 rule and those that are not.

“At present, the rule is on hold in 28 states and in effect in 22.

“In the meantime, EPA continues to work on finalizing a new rule.”

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