Friday, July 19, 2013

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News of the Week

~Virtual Newspaper for an Aquatic World~

Farm Bill Heading Toward House-Senate Conference Committee
The House on Tuesday sent its version of the farm bill to the Senate for its consideration, almost a week after narrowly passing the pared-back measure (after Republican leaders stripped out the nutrition title).  That was the initial step in a process that should lead to the formation of a conference committee tasked with attempting to reconcile the House bill with a Senate-passed version.  The Senate responded on Thursday by amending the House bill, inserting the text of the Senate-passed version in lieu of the House language.  The Senate then formally requested a conference with the House on the bill, and authorized the appointment of conferees to the conference committee.

The most glaring difference between the two measures is the absence in the House bill of the nutrition title, which authorizes, among other programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or "SNAP"), commonly known as food stamps.  In addition to the SNAP differences, the House's version would do away with the "permanent law" provisions that revert farm bill policy back to the original (1938 and 1949) farm bill language once a current farm bill’s authority lapses. The threat of reverting to the permanent law is effectively a hammer that has been kept in place over the years to make sure Congress does not simply let the farm bill expire.  The House bill also cuts deeper into conservation program funding than the Senate bill, and would not require farmers to meet conservation requirements to receive federal subsidies for crop insurance (the Senate bill does).  To read the latest summary of prospects for reconciling the two bills and for an overview of the conference committee process, see here, and also see the numerous media articles, below, under the "Farm Bill" heading.

House Passes Energy and Water Spending Bill Setting Up Showdown With Senate
Last week, following two days of debate, the House passed its version of the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, H.R. 2609 on a roll call vote of 227 - 198. The spending bill provides funding for, among other agencies, the Army Corps of Engineers. Total funding for the Army Corps was reduced to $4.676 billion, compared to the $4.98 billion appropriated during fiscal year 2013 and the  $4.726 billion requested in the President's fiscal year 2014 budget proposal. A  political showdown now looms between the House and the Senate and their respective spending bills over a contentious Clean Water Act jurisdiction provision in the House bill and also over the amount of funding authorized by the respective measures; the Senate bill would spend $4 billion more than is provided by the House-passed bill.   To read more details on how the measures might impact the Mississippi River Basin, see this article.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: hot temperatures create environment ripe for harmful algae growing in state lakes
  • U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program releases national assessment of stream health report
  • Growers press FDA to drop planned requirement for irrigation water to meet EPA's water quality criteria for bacteria
  • NPR: Heavy rains send Iowa's precious soil downriver
  • New Orleans is taking steps to use rainwater to help residents, the environment and the city
  • Environmentalists petition EPA to expand universe of properties subject to Clean Water Act stormwater permits
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Smaller utilities seek to limit the impacts of EPA's water rule for power plants
  • National Marine Fisheries Service raises questions about Louisiana proposal to build Mississippi River diversion
  • Senate's Homeland Security spending bill would prevent FEMA from raising flood insurance rates on certain properties
  • NY Times: Some homeowners would win federal flood insurance premium one-year relief under Senate spending bill provision
  • Arkansas and Missouri hearing witnesses fear designation of White River as a Blueway could lead to unwanted regulation
  • Interior Secretary has "paused" controversial Blueways program designed to recognize conservation of valuable watersheds
  • Obama Officials Push Private Sector Role In Water Infrastructure, Criticized by Some In Environmental Community
  • House eyes Army Corps funding bill without Senate bill's EPA water infrastructure loan pilot program for big cities
Farm Bill-
  • Senate takes the first steps to request a formal farm bill conference with the House
  • Senate sends the Senate farm bill to the House in order to form a conference committee
  • House Agriculture Committee Chair: "conversations can and will begin immediately’ with the Senate on the Farm Bill"
  • Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman warns of political fallout if no farm bill is enacted
  • Senate pushes House on farm bill - calls for House to begin conferencing process
  • Some speculate that Congress would never again pass a farm bill if 1949 legislation is repealed, as House bill would do
  • CBS ‘Face the Nation’ host: House farm bill is welfare for large corporations; fails to provide nutrition assistance
  • Washington Post editorial board: "The House’s farm bill is a perfect disgrace"
  • Rep. Steve King (R-IA-4): House’s decision to split farm bill was "bad tactic," unnecessarily politicizing the issue
  • Sen. Durbin (D-IL): House-passed farm bill with no money for nutrition programs will be dead on arrival in Senate
  • House leaders indicate they expect to vote on the food-stamp portion of farm bill "in the next week or two"
  • Although a short-term political win, GOP's farm bill victory could prove fruitless for policy reform in the long run
  • 243 food and farm organizations call on Congress to work immediately on producing "final full and fair Farm Bill"
Agriculture -
  • EWG report: simple conservation practices make huge difference in protecting soil, streams in agricultural watersheds
  • EPA prepares to approve barley as renewable fuel (biofuel) feedstock
  • Op-ed: Tie crop subsidies to good conservation practices to avoid reprises of Midwest storm soil erosion events
  • Corn and Soybean Digest interview with USDA NRCS Acting Chief Jason Weller
July 16 U.S. Drought Monitor Map
(click to enlarge)
Climate and Weather -
  • Last week drought or abnormal dryness areas expanded in parts of Mississippi Basin; were "trimmed" some in Minnesota
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3) to introduce bill banning chemicals linked to bee deaths
  • Army Corps plan to save Missouri River's endangered pallid sturgeon spawns controversy
  • Illinois communities feeling the effects of emerald ash borer
  • Farmers and scientists are looking for new ways to battle invasive weeds, including "barnyard grass"
  • Environmentalists considering renewable fuel standard (RFS) suit against EPA over invasive feedstock plant concerns
  • Alien Forest Pest Explorer web tool provides state and county-wide distributions of damaging forest invasive species
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's newly-released "Vision for a Healthy Gulf of Mexico Watershed" (PDF file)
  • Datu Research July 9 report:  “Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy” (PDF file)
  • Study: Coastal habitats shield people and property from sea-level rise and storms; study: news coverage:
  • First-ever US map shows where natural habitats protect coastlines from rising seas, catastrophic storms
  • Louisiana Governor praises construction of three barrier islands, while urging Congress to fund coastal restoration
  • U.S. cannot fully account for Gulf of Mexico environmental destruction caused by BP disaster with current methods
  • American chestnut tree future may rest in hands of two groups with very different approaches
  • New study: “A highly aggregated geographical distribution of forest pest invasions in the USA”
Resource Extraction -
  • Pollution worries abound in frac sand waste streams
  • Largely overlooked in fracking debate is the emerging fight in U.S. heartland over mining sand
Federal Budget -
  • House Appropriations Committee approves slimmed down NOAA fiscal year 2014 spending bill
Events -  Information on all past and future events listed here can be viewed in the on-line calendar (here as a stand-alone calendar)
Mississippi River Photo Exhibit Photograph
  • State Level Nutrient Reduction Strategies Webinar-Analyzing NRCS Ag-BMP Effects on Water Quality; July 24 11 AM EDT
  • This is St. Croix River, River Awareness Week-a celebration and associated clean-up of the River, and its tributaries
  • EPA Watershed Academy Webcast: "Perspectives on the Impact to Public Health of Harmful Algal Blooms" July 25 1 pm EDT
  • 2013 International Low Impact Development Symposium; University of Minnesota; August 18-21; Saint Paul RiverCentre
  • Implementing Green Infrastructure at Multiple Scales; The Conservation Fund; September 9-12, Shepherdstown, WV ($650)
e-Newsletters, Publications and Journals -
Other news-
  • Pressure builds in Congress for overhauling landmark National Environmental Policy Act
  • Research: When Dread Risks Are More Dreadful than Continuous Risks: Comparing Cumulative Population Losses over Time
  • Interior Secretary supports tying conservation funding to assistance programs for some rural communities
Political Scene -
  • Senate votes 59-40 to confirm McCarthy as new EPA administrator
  • Kentucky Secretary of State decides to run against Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in 2014 for Kentucky US Senate slot
  • Kentucky Secretary of State Grimes represents Democrats' best shot to unseat U.S. Senate Minority Leader McConnell
  • Former Montana governor Schweitzer won’t run for U.S. Senate seat, leaving Democrats scrambling for viable candidate
  • Republican Joni Ernst “six-stop statewide campaign introduction tour” to launch race for Iowa U.S. Senate seat
  • Sioux Falls, Republican Annette Bosworth plans to enter South Dakota U.S. Senate race
  • Liz Cheney to challenge Wyoming Sen. Enzi (R) in 2014 in the Republican US Senate primary
Last Word -

"Man, it’s pushing a big boulder up a tall hill." - House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) (left), speaking on Wednesday's AgriTalk radio program regarding his efforts to craft a separate House nutrition bill that would be able to get the 218 "yes" votes needed to pass the measure in that chamber. On the right is the painting "Sisyphus," by Titian. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king of Ephyra condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again. No comparison between Congress and the story of Sisyphus is either intended or implied.

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