June 29, 2017

Reaction: EPA Proposes Rule To Repeal ‘WOTUS’

The National Pork Producers Council hailed today’s announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it will propose a rule to rescind a controversial Clean Water Act regulation that gave the government broad jurisdiction over land and water.

The proposal – expected to be published in the Federal Register in the coming days – will repeal the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which ostensibly was implemented to clarify EPA’s authority over various waters.

Based on several U.S. Supreme Court decisions, EPA’s jurisdiction had included “navigable” waters and waters with a significant hydrologic connection to navigable waters. But the WOTUS rule broadened that to include, among other water bodies, upstream waters and intermittent and ephemeral streams such as the kind farmers use for drainage and irrigation. It also covered lands adjacent to such waters.

“This is great news for America’s pork producers,” said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill. “The WOTUS rule was a dramatic government overreach and an unprecedented expansion of federal authority over private lands.

“It was the product of a flawed regulatory process that lacked transparency and likely would have been used by trial lawyers and environmental activists to attack farmers,” Maschhoff added. “We’re extremely grateful to President Trump and EPA Administrator [Scott] Pruitt for recognizing the dire consequences this ill-advised Obama-era regulation would have had on pork producers and all of American agriculture.”

Gov. Doug Burgum released the following statement today in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Army and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposing a rule to rescind the “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule.

 “Clean water is critical to quality of life and our economy, and no one cares more about clean water in North Dakota than the people who live here. Today’s action is a welcome step toward a rule recognizing that states are best positioned to protect, manage and regulate their own waters,” Burgum said. “The Obama administration’s WOTUS rule was a particularly egregious example of regulatory overreach that effectively classified almost every pond, pothole and slough as a federal managed waterway, creating confusion and uncertainty for farmers, ranchers, landowners and local governments. We are encouraged that the EPA and Corps of Engineers have been reaching out to governors early in this renewed rulemaking process, and we hope such consultation will continue and culminate in a rule that respects states’ authority and unique role in protecting their water resources. We are grateful to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for his leadership on this issue.”

 In July 2015, North Dakota spearheaded a lawsuit filed with a dozen other states against the EPA and Corps of Engineers over the WOTUS rule. The rule was blocked when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted a nationwide stay in October 2015. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Feb. 28 to begin the process of rescinding or revising the WOTUS rule.

The following is a statement from Texas farmer Wesley Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers Association, in response to today’s announcement of the proposal to repeal the 2015 Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule:

“The goal of the Clean Water Act is to restore and maintain the integrity of the nation’s waters. The 2015 rule moved us further away from that goal. Repealing it is an important first step toward providing farmers the certainty and clarity we have long desired.

“We are thankful this Administration is working to draw clear lines in terms of what is and what is not jurisdictional under the Clean Water Act. In doing so, they will enable farmers to implement best management practices such as grass waterways and buffer strips without the burden of bureaucratic red tape or fear of legal action. These types of land improvements have enormous water quality benefits, such as reducing sediment and nutrient runoff—a win for farmers and the environment. Government should be making these actions easier, not more difficult.

“We salute the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers for their efforts. We stand committed to working with these agencies as they develop a new rule that defines jurisdictional boundaries in clear terms that are inclusive of the realities of farming.”

Once the proposed repeal rule is published, it will be subject to a public comment period.

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North Dakota’s Skunes Testifies on NAFTA at USTR Hearing

The North American Free Trade Agreement is critical for corn farmers and agriculture at large, and continuing its long-term success is a top priority to our members, National Corn Growers Association First Vice President Kevin Skunes testified Tuesday at a hearing of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to examine priorities for the upcoming NAFTA renegotiations.

“North America has become the most important export market for the U.S. corn industry,” Skunes testified. “Corn farmers export about 20 percent of our annual corn crop, and exports account for about one-third of our income. Today, the agriculture economy is experiencing its fourth year of a downturn marked by low commodity prices. I cannot stress enough how important export markets are to our ability to stay in business.”

Skunes, a farmer from Arthur, North Dakota, highlighted how NAFTA has positively impacted U.S. agricultural trade with Canada and Mexico since its implementation in 1994.

“Free trade has benefitted American farmers, and NAFTA has been extremely valuable to our industry,” said Skunes. “Twenty-three years of investment has led to a sizeable increase in trade. Since 1994, U.S. corn exports to NAFTA partners have increased more than seven-fold. Today, we export a record volume of more than 14 million metric tons of corn to Mexico and Canada, valued at $2.68 billion. In 2016, corn exports to these two neighbors supported 25,000 jobs, on top of helping support 300,000 U.S. corn farmers.”

Mexico is the largest export market for U.S. corn as well as a significant market for distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS). Canada is a top-10 export market for corn and DDGS, and the number one export market for U.S. ethanol.

NCGA’s top priority for NAFTA modernization is to preserve duty-free access for corn and corn products, and to expand market access for corn in all forms, including livestock products, DDGS, and ethanol, Skunes told government officials.

“We look forward to working with USTR and the Administration to build on the success corn farmers and the broader agriculture industry have enjoyed under NAFTA.”

Click here for Skunes’ full prepared testimony.

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USGC: NAFTA Modernization Efforts Should Seek to Ease Uncertainty For Customers, U.S. Farmers

Concerns about the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have disrupted relationships with longstanding customers of U.S. grains and caused significant concern in farm country, U.S. Grains Council (USGC) Chairman Chip Councell testified Tuesday to a panel of government officials examining priorities ahead of NAFTA renegotiation talks.

Councell, a farmer from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, spoke at the hearing to provide information and offer personal insights into the impact of NAFTA changes to the U.S. corn, sorghum and barley industries.

He told panelists he has been to Mexico twice this year and helped to host a team of Mexican grain buyers visiting the United States to talk with farmers and policy makers. Through those conversations, he learned firsthand that buyers’ concerns are translating into dollars lost in farm country.

“Because our agriculture economies have grown to be so closely intertwined, this trade agreement in particular is critical to my business. The last several months have highlighted how important it is to maintain this strong, stable relationship if we are going to continue to grow,” Councell said.

Councell told panelists that the Council has “strong but unconfirmed evidence” Mexico will purchase corn from South America later this year, and that he himself took a futures position for his entire 2017 corn crop when withdrawal talk began, fearing what might happen to markets as the new crop approached.

“What is happening now in our relationship with Mexican buyers will change how the Mexican industry invests in infrastructure, impact our demand for years to come and impact individual producers like myself financially,” he said.

Councell said that rising demand for feed and food has created new opportunities for grain and oilseed exports to Canada and Mexico over the past three decades, which have been tariff-free thanks to NAFTA. Proximity and natural logistical advantages have led to efficiencies and integration on both sides of the border and helped dramatically expand U.S. farmers’ exports to Mexico, in particular.

With these successes in mind, Councell urged panelists to ensure negotiators make every effort to do no harm to existing markets and avoid retaliation against U.S. agriculture. He also outlined improvements the Council would suggest for the agreement, including elements drawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) text as well as updated sanitary and phytosanitary, biotechnology synchronization and energy provisions.

The U.S. Grains Council is a private, non-profit organization that works to build demand and develop markets for U.S. corn, sorghum, barley and related products including ethanol, distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS), and corn gluten feed and meal.

The Council hosts programs in Canada and Mexico and has strong relationships with the feed and livestock industries in both countries.

Canada was the ninth largest export market for U.S. corn; the seventh largest export market for U.S. DDGS; and the top export market for U.S. ethanol in the 2015/2016 marketing year.

Mexico was the top export market for U.S. corn in the 2015/2016 marketing year and is a steady and significant buyer of U.S. barley, sorghum and DDGS. The Council has maintained an office in Mexico for 35 years, helping the Mexican feed and livestock industry develop through training, information exchange, technology transfer and market development.

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