House Ag Committee grills Sec. Vilsack over EPA, farm economy
By Stewart Doan
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 - A House Agriculture Committee hearing to examine the state of the U.S. farm economy turned into a GOP bashing of the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory agenda for agriculture.
Members of the committee heard testimony from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the “good times” that American agriculture is experiencing right now and questioned him on a variety of topics including the many regulatory burdens affecting the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers.
“The Environmental Protection Agency has opened up at least ten assaults on agriculture including the strange objectives of eliminating dust on farms and treating milk on farms as if it was oil,” asserted Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). “To put it plainly, EPA is gambling with our economy and wasting taxpayers' dollars while they're at it.”
His GOP colleagues piled on, with many telling Vilsack their farm constituents consider the EPA the biggest “threat” to the profitability of their operations. Asked to intervene on their behalf, the USDA chief insisted that he already has.
“We're doing that in terms of the relationship I have with Administrator Lisa Jackson, the advice and counsel we provide, the letters we write on certain proposed regulations, the input we have encouraged from livestock and commodity groups to the EPA,” Vilsack replied.
Commenting on the farm economic outlook, Vilsack said prospects generally look bright with exports, cash receipts and net income at near-record or record levels, but he noted that recent sharp increases in grain and soybean prices are generating concerns - especially for livestock and dairy producers.
According to the Secretary, the smaller 2010 U.S. corn harvest - not ethanol - was the primary factor contributing to the projected drop in corn carryover this year to the lowest level since 1995/96 and the primary factor contributing to higher farm-gate corn prices, currently forecast to average a record $5.05-$5.75 per bushel.
He reiterated the Obama Administration's support for biofuels and argued that using federal dollars to incent the installation of blender pumps and production of flex-fuel vehicles would “produce a very stable and secure market” for ethanol.
On other issues raised during the hearing, Vilsack flatly rejected a suggestion by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) that political considerations related to former Senate Ag Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln's
(D-Ark.) re-election campaign entered into USDA's decision last September to send $630 million in ad hoc disaster assistance to southern farmers.
He said he remains supportive of the SURE program and hopes Congress will make improvements to it in the 2012 Farm Bill.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pressed Vilsack unsuccessfully for a timetable for the completion of a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration's controversial livestock marketing rule. While anxious to get the analysis completed as quickly as possible, he said he'd instructed USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber to “take the time necessary to do it right.”
To listen to Stewart Doan's audio recap of the hearing, click on http://www.agri-pulse.com/Audio-Thursday.asp
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