AFTER the August recess, congressional members are scheduled to be back in D.C. with some top-of-mind issues for agriculture on the docket.
Congress still needs to pass the 2015 spending bills before they expire at the end of September. Congress looks to continue the kick-the-can approach and pass a continuing resolution to extend funding until December. For this year, shutting down the government doesn't look to be in anyone's playbook.
Both the House and Senate appropriations committees have passed out of committee their respective agricultural bills, but politics got in the way of either coming to the floor for a full body vote. Agricultural interests are already trying to lobby for what will make it into the omnibus spending bill that will again face legislators.
A bipartisan group of 13 senators sent a letter to appropriators seeking that the rider to limit the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from further promulgating rules on marketing practices for the livestock industry not be included in any final package.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) expects the continuing resolution to stretch out until December, which will force legislators to come back for a lame duck after elections this November. Another important item of business will be dealing with an extenders package on tax issues, which Johanns said "should have been done a long time ago" and is now long overdue.
EPA water rule
The House Rules Committee is scheduled to review H.R. 5078, legislation prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing the proposed waters of the U.S. regulation.
In a scheduled meeting late in the afternoon on Monday, the Rules Committee will establish the rules of debate for the House, which is expected shortly after the bill clears the Rules Committee. A vote by the full House on H.R. 5078 is expected later on in the week.
H.R. 5078 addresses both the proposed regulation and the interpretive rule related to exempt agriculture activities and prevents the agencies from directly or indirectly using the documents as the basis for decisions regarding the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA).
Action in the full House comes after the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology recently released maps of waters and wetlands EPA has to-date (story, page 1). The maps show waters and wetlands in all 50 states and look to detail the reach of the waters of the U.S. proposal.
CWA was originally intended to allow the federal government to regulate navigable waters; but recent court decisions have questioned the definition of which bodies of water are "navigable" and if CWA has jurisdiction over them. Due to this uncertainty, EPA proposed a rule to clarify the waters of the U.S. and also issued an interpretive rule to explain how the proposed rule would affect CWA exemptions for agriculture.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, announced that it will hold a hearing to consider the nomination of Lisa Afua Serwah Mensah, of Maryland, to be under secretary of agriculture for rural development, at 10 a.m. on Sept. 10.