For the Week Ending February 5, 2021

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Only hours after his confirmation hearing, the Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday approved the nomination of Tom Vilsack to head USDA. During the hearing, Vilsack outlined top priorities for the agency, including efforts to address climate change and ensuring animal disease vaccine banks are well stocked. Vilsack said he plans to use USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation spending authority to develop an agricultural carbon bank as part of overall voluntary climate programs. “There is a concern that a carbon sequestration bank would potentially benefit investors or benefit third parties. It has to be structured and devised and designed in a way that the principal beneficiaries are farmers. Why? Because we want them to do this, we want to encourage it,” he added. Speaking about animal disease vaccine banks, Vilsack outlined how the agency needs to be prepared. “The reality is, if we don’t respond quickly, there’s not just risk to animals in the markets, but a risk to people and we have to understand the interconnectedness between the two,” he said. Ensuring a robust Foot-and-Mouth Disease vaccine bank and environmental sustainability are two top NPPC priorities. NPPC supports Vilsack’s nomination and recently joined nearly 130 agricultural and food groups, urging for his confirmation. Vilsack is shortly expected to be confirmed by the full Senate.  

During his Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee confirmation hearing on Wednesday, EPA administrator nominee Michael Regan said he’s “looking forward to convening multiple stakeholder groups on how we chart a path forward” to address the definition of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS). Under the Obama administration in 2015, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a new WOTUS rule that gave EPA broad jurisdiction over U.S. waters to include upstream waters and intermittent and ephemeral streams. The WOTUS rule was immediately challenged in court and subject to several preliminary injunctions. The Trump administration repealed the 2015 rule in 2019 and in June 2020, replaced it with the new Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR). “I don’t believe that we have to sacrifice water quality at the expense of making sure that farmers, especially small farmers, have a fighting chance in this economy,” Regan said. “I believe that you can do both. What I’m hopeful for is that we can look for a common ground where we give the farming community and the environmental community some certainty that, as we move forward, we’re going to follow the science, follow the law,” he added. NPPC supports the NWPR and remains active in continued litigation involving the 2015 WOTUS rule. The Senate EPW Committee is likely to confirm Regan in the coming days, and is anticipated to receive full Senate approval shortly thereafter. NPPC supports Regan’s nomination. As Department of Environmental Quality secretary in North Carolina, a leading pork-producing state, he always had an open door, valued diverse points of view, and worked to find solutions that ensured science and data were guiding decisions. NPPC welcomes his focus on protecting water quality and looks forward to working with him on these and other top environmental issues. 

On Thursday, the U.S. Court of International Trade upheld former President Trump’s Section 232 tariffs on foreign steel, which have been in place since March 2018. The three-judge panel ruled against steel importer Universal Steel Products and four other plaintiffs, finding that the 25 percent steel tariffs did not violate the law. While the steel and aluminum import tariffs were lifted in 2019 for Canada and Mexico—which led to congressional approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement—the steel import duties remain in place on imports from Europe, China and other countries. In retaliation, China has implemented 25 percent tariffs on U.S. pork exports into the country. NPPC has been pressing for the retaliatory duties on U.S. pork to be removed.  

This week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reached a deal on an organizing resolution for running a 50-50 Senate, allowing Democrats to chair committees. Earlier in the week, Schumer announced new Democratic committee assignments, including Sens. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.) and Alex Padilla (Calif.), who will join the Environment and Public Works Committee, replacing Cory Booker (N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.). Additionally, Booker, Ben Ray Lujan (N.M.) and Raphael Warnock (Ga.) will join the Agriculture Committee, while Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.) will leave the committee. On the Republican side, Sens. Roger Marshall (Kan.) and Tommy Tuberville (Ala.) will join the Agriculture Committee. Additionally, Sens. Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) will join the Environment and Public Works Committee, while Sens. Mike Braun (Ind.) and Mike Rounds (S.D.) depart the panel. 

On Friday, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee withdrew her bid to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO), leaving former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the lone candidate. The WTO selects its director general through consensus, not an outright election. Last fall, Okonjo-Iweala emerged as the consensus choice to lead the WTO for all but one member—the United States—which backed Myung-hee. That led to a stalemate that essentially halted any WTO actions. The Biden administration has said it would like to see a new WTO director general appointed shortly.