Wednesday, April 20, 2016

145 House Members Demand Answers from EPA on Anti-Farmer Campaign EPA funds used in anti-farmer campaign in Washington State



Today, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX), and Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE) were joined by 142 Members on a bipartisan letter to the
Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy. The Members request answers on EPA Region 10’s funding of whatsupstream.com website and advocacy campaign in Washington State that attempts to influence legislators for greater regulation of farmers and ranchers.
Rep. Newhouse: “Federal law is clear, and the EPA knows better than to be engaged in the misuse of taxpayer dollars for anti-farmer publicity campaigns that lobby for more regulations. Despite previous EPA violations of federal laws pertaining to funding propaganda, advocacy, and lobbying efforts, it is troubling that the EPA has allowed taxpayer funds to be used to attack farmers. The EPA must be held accountable to cooperate fully with oversight investigations and to end the pattern of taxpayer-funded lobbying efforts.”
Chairman Conaway: “This is one more example of the lack of appropriate oversight by EPA. I applaud Rep. Newhouse and many of my colleagues for holding EPA accountable for the unlawful misuse of federal funds. America’s farmers and ranchers deserve a government that will defend their cause and work to make sure it has a thriving future. These actions by EPA, however, do the opposite.”
Rep. Ashford: “I am disappointed in the actions taken by the EPA to lobby Washington State legislators using federal funds. With trust in our public officials at an all-time low, it is imperative that our federal agencies respect federal laws. I join my colleagues in the House and Senate to reprimand the EPA and call on them to fully cooperate with investigations. I do not want to see this misuse of federal funds impact other states, such as Nebraska.”
Background:
Earlier this month, the EPA admitted in news reports that it should not have funded a campaign in Washington State known as whatsupstream.com, due to that campaign’s brazen lobbying of state legislators in contravention of federal law. The whatsupstream.com campaign, which was wholly funded by the EPA, used grant awards to fund a website, radio ads, and billboards depicting dead fish and polluted water, urging individuals to contact their state legislators and, “hold the agricultural industry to the same level of responsibility as other industries.” A large, red button on the website labeled, “Take action! We’ve made it simple,” allowed visitors to easily send an email to their state legislators advocating for 100-foot stream buffer zones and other policies. An EPA Inspector General’s report from 2014 had warned that the EPA region responsible for awarding the grant had insufficient protections in place to ensure awardees were not using funds for advocacy, propaganda, and/or lobbying efforts.
According to a December, 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the EPA violated federal lobbying and advocacy laws by funding social media campaigns supporting EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule.
The letter and the list of signers in alphabetical order are included below. For the full text of the letter with footnotes, click here.

House Appropriations Committee Provides $25 Million Increase for USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative


WASHINGTON, DC (April 19, 2016)—Today, the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations approved a $25 million addition for the USDA’s AFRI program for fiscal year 2017. If this funding level holds throughout the federal budget process, AFRI will receive a 15 percent increase in the past two fiscal years.

"The Subcommittee markup shows progress and a step forward in this difficult budget environment," said Thomas Grumbly, president of the SoAR Foundation. "The additional resources are urgently needed to tackle today's agricultural crises like Avian flu and citrus greening disease as well as those that have yet to emerge."

AFRI is the USDA’s premiere source of competitive research funding; proposals are subject to a peer review process to make sure that the key questions in agriculture and food production can be answered. In the last four years, AFRI’s review process identified $3.85 billion in grants worthy of funding. However, with a limited annual budget, the program could only award $950 million—less than a quarter of the science that the program’s expert panels deemed worthy.

The House Appropriations Committee is chaired by Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky. Last year, the increase that AFRI received in FY2016—more than three quarters of all new funding for USDA Research and Education activities that year—brought the annual budget to $350 million.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to Speak on Local and Regional Foods at Food Tank Summit


 
WASHINGTON, April 20 2016 – TODAY, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will discuss USDA’s investment in local and regional foods at the Second Annual Food Tank Summit at American University.

As consumer interest in “buying local” blossomed at the start of the Obama Administration, USDA recognized a growing need to support farmers, small businesses and communities interested in taking advantage of this new market opportunity by making strong investments and creating a number of helpful tools.

Between 2009 and 2015, USDA has invested over $1 billion in more than 40,000 local and regional food businesses/infrastructure projects and made more than $11.5 million available to assist organic operations. As a result, the number of domestic certified organic operations has increased by almost 12 percent between 2014 and 2015.

Today, more than 160,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling into local markets, from farmers markets and CSAs to local restaurants, grocery stores and institutions, generating huge returns for local communities.

Industry estimates show U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008, and experts anticipate that value to hit $20 billion by 2019. These opportunities are helping to drive job growth in agriculture, increase entrepreneurship in rural communities and expand food access and choice.