Policy quick hits: A budget deal at last

Also: Do new emissions standards miss the mark?

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

March 25, 2024

5 Min Read
U.S. capitol building with flag background
Getty Images/franckreporter

There’s never a shortage of agriculture news. Here are a few policy stories you may have missed over the past week.

Congress finalizes budget deal

After almost six months of delays, President Biden signed a bipartisan spending bill officially finalizing the federal government’s 2024 fiscal year budget. The bill eliminates the threat of a partial government shutdown for now. Lawmakers have until Sept. 30 to finalize a budget for the 2025 fiscal year.

The extended budget battle has long been seen as one of the biggest obstacles to drafting a new farm bill. Now that lawmakers have cleared that hurdle, there is some hope that lawmakers will turn their attention to agriculture. However, election year politics means nothing is certain.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R- GA, has already initiated an effort to Remove House Speaker Mike Johnson. This came after he helped broker the bipartisan spending agreement that received more votes from Democrats than Republicans. While Greene’s motion to vacate doesn’t seem to have the same support (yet) as the effort to remove former speaker Kevin McCarthy last fall, it once again highlights the difficulty of getting any bipartisan legislation through Congress.

Lawmakers consider future of farmland

Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D- Wisc., and Mike Braun, R- Ind., introduced the Farm Transition Act of 2024 on March 21. They say the bill will break down barriers to farming and agricultural land ownership, potentially helping more Americans pursue farming careers.

According to American Farmland Trust, more than 40% of U.S. ag land is owned by seniors 65-years-old and older. This means around 370 million acres of farmland will likely change hands over the next 20 years. Still, many young farmers struggle to afford land and face major obstacles to obtaining capital.

At the same time, the amount of farmland purchased by investment firms rose more than 230% between 2008 and 2023. Farmland owned by foreign entities also increased 65% between 2010 and 2021.

The 2018 Farm Bill authorized a commission on farm transitions to investigate barriers to ag land ownership and provide recommendations on keeping agricultural lands productive. However, that initiative never gained traction. The Farm Transition Act of 2024 would re-authorize the commission and require USDA to act within 60 days.

“As we reach a pivot point between generations of farmers, many Wisconsinites interested in a career in agriculture are being locked out because of the cost and having to compete with Wall Street investment firms buying up farmland,” Baldwin says. “We need to do more to protect our agricultural land and give more hard-working Wisconsin farmers the opportunity to take over the family farm or start their own.”

The House is considering a similar bill introduced by Reps. Yadira Caraveo, D- Colo., Trent Kelly, R- Miss., Don Davis, D- N.C., and Zach Nunn, R- Iowa.

New pollution standards bring mixed reactions

Biden administration officials are touting new emission standards they say will bring $100 billion in annual net benefits to Americans. The Environmental Protection Agency’s final national pollution standards for 2027 to 2023 would significantly reduce the amount of pollution allowed from tailpipes. To meet these standards, car manufacturers would need to make the majority of their new passenger cars and light-duty trucks electric vehicles or hybrids.

“With transportation as the largest source of U.S. climate emissions, these strongest-ever pollution standards for cars solidify America’s leadership in building a clean transportation future and creating good-paying American jobs, all while advancing President Biden’s historic climate agenda,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan says. “The standards will slash over seven billion tons of climate pollution, improve air quality in overburdened communities, and give drivers more clean vehicle choices while saving them money.”

According to EPA data, improved air quality will yield $13 billion in annual public health benefits. Biden administration officials also say the new standards will bring greater certainty to the auto industry, leading to smore private investments and jobs. EPA also projects the new fuel standards will save the average American drivers $6,000 in reduced fuel and maintenance costs over the life of a vehicle.

Notably, the rules do not incentivize the production of vehicles using ethanol or other biofuels. Renewable Fuels Association President Geoff Cooper says that focusing only on emissions from vehicles while ignoring emissions related to other production factors will result in the U.S. falling short of the Biden administration’s climate goals. According to the RFA, multiple studies show ethanol significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, potentially achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner.

Cooper says that the new EPA rules also discourage manufacturers from pursuing other technologies like flex fuel vehicles and engines optimized to operate on ethanol. He argues those technologies could achieve superior environmental performance at a lower cost.

“Clearly, the substantive concerns raised by automakers, ethanol producers, fuel suppliers, consumer groups, and many others went unheard by the White House and EPA.,” Cooper said. “Today’s final rule effectively forces automakers to produce more battery electric vehicles based on the false premise that they are ‘zero-emission vehicles.’”

Democrat Senators push for local food access

During the COVD-19 pandemic, Congress allocated $900 million to USDA’s Local Food Purchase Cooperative Agreement program. That initiative helps local entities purchase food produced in their states or within 400 miles of a delivery destination. Now a coalition of Democrat Senators are hoping to make the program permanent.

On March 21, Sen. Jack Reed introduced the Expanding Access to Local Foods Act. The bill, commonly referred to as the EAT Local Foods Act, would create a permeant grant program to help state and tribal governments procure local foods for their hunger relief programs. Supporters say the bill would leverage government purchasing power and increase access to locally sourced foods. They believe it will also help local producers grow their markets.

“We can’t afford to lose ground and this bill plants the seed for continued, sustainable investment in family farmers, fishermen, ranchers, producers, and our local food systems,” Reed says. “It gives people in need access to fresh, healthy food, and strengthens local economies. It’s also good for the environment because it means locally grown produce and products are consumed in nearby communities rather than shipped off to faraway destinations.”

More than a dozen senators are co-sponsoring the bill including Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Cory Booker, D- N.J. Ron Wyden, D- Ore., Laphonza Butler, D-Calif., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I, Angus King, I-Maine, Richard Blumenthal, D- Conn., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., John Fetterman, D- Pa., and Peter Welch, D- Vt.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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