Vilsack: ‘Going to Be a Very Active and Proactive USDA’

Posted on 03/02/2021 7:51 AM

House Ag Chairman Scott wants new disaster aid fund for farmers, industry

 


In Today’s Digital Newspaper


 

Market Focus:
• Equities decline WHO says worldwide Covid-19 infections rose first time in 7 weeks
• U.S. climate envoy John Kerry talks carbon dioxide today at CERAWeek
• All 270 Apple Stores in U.S. open for first time in nearly a year
• New York’s attorney general warned on cryptocurrencies as bitcoin rallies

• Some White House economic advisers pushing to weaken the dollar
• Texas hauls gasoline from other states
• Ag demand update

Soybean lineup at Brazilian ports longest on record
• Consultant raises Brazilian bean crop projection as weather concerns ease
• Argentine weather concerning, but Cordonnier maintains crop pegs
• Ukraine’s export quota unlikely to have major impact on shipments

Policy Focus:
• Vilsack: ‘This is going to be a very active and proactive USDA’
• Vilsack comments on key farm, aid and energy issues
• House Ag Chairman Scott wants new disaster aid fund for farmers, industry
• Freight rail industry ramped up its push for dedicated funding
• IRS allows 2020 PPP loan recipients to get retention credit

 

Biden Administration Personnel

• Senate voted, 64-33, to confirm Miguel Cardona as secretary of Education
• Senate Judiciary Committee advances Garland to be attorney general
• Senate clears path for Raimondo confirmation to leader Commerce
• Finance panel sets Tai confirmation vote for Wednesday

 

China Update:
• China’s exporters hit by global shortage of shipping containers
• China appears to warn India: push too hard and lights could go out
• Biden administration to use “all available tools” to respond to unfair trading practices
• Biden USTR nominee pledges to ensure China tariffs are appropriate
• China to crack down on counterfeit seeds

 

Trade Policy:
• New WTO chief pushes members to make progress on ag issues ahead of ministerial
• USTR trade agenda report more notable for what is not included
• What’s in USTR trade agenda report

 

Energy & Climate Change:

• House Democrats today to unveil clean energy bill
• No new gas stations Petaluma, California  
• Vilsack: farms to provide ‘early wins’ for Biden climate change plan
• API poised to endorse carbon pricing
• After hitting pandemic low in April, global emissions rebounded strongly


Food & Beverage Industry Update:
• Post Foods to settle sugary cereal class action with $15 million fund
• Tyson offers vaccinations to Iowa meat plant workers  
• FSIS proposes requiring Internet access at meat, poultry plants, other facilities


Coronavirus Update:
• CVS, Walgreens look for big data reward from vaccinations

 

Other Items of Note:
• FBI director to testify about Jan. 6 riot
• U.S., Mexico cooperation on immigration, Covid-19 recovery & climate change

 


MARKET FOCUS


 

Equities today: Global stocks dropped as the WHO said worldwide Covid-19 infections rose for the first time in 7 weeks. U.S. stock indexes are pointed toward weaker openings. Asian markets were rattled overnight when a top banking official in China said the U.S. and other stock markets were in bubbles that are bound to eventually correct. Most Asian markets finished lower, and Europe was higher at midday. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 356.71 points, 1.21%, at 29,095.86. Japan’s Nikkei was off 255.33 points, 0.86%, at 29,408.17.
 

     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow rose 603.14 points, 1.95%, at 31,535.51. The Nasdaq gained 396.48 points, 3.01%, at 13,588.83. The S&P 500 moved up 90.67 points, 2.38%, at 3,901.82.

 

     Investors will be watching the public appearances scheduled this week for several top Fed officials for signs of concern about bond yields. The rise has been good for bank stocks, since higher rates typically mean higher profits. The KBW Nasdaq Bank Index is up 20% this year, and the KBW Nasdaq Regional Banking Index is up 27%

 

On tap today:

 

     • Federal Reserve governor Lael Brainard speaks on the economy and monetary policy at 1 p.m. ET and San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly speaks to the Economic Club of New York at 2 p.m. ET.
     • U.S. climate envoy John Kerry will talk carbon dioxide at the CERAWeek conference this morning. He will be joined by former Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, now president and CEO of the Energy Futures Initiative. Other panels today include a discussion on carbon pricing with the acting chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and another on downstream strategies "beyond crude and oil products."

     • Meatpacking worker safety. House Appropriations subcommittee online hearing, "Health and safety protections for meatpacking, poultry and agricultural workers," 10 a.m. ET.
     • Purdue releases monthly Ag Economy Barometer.
     • International Sweetener Colloquium. Sweetener Users Association and International Dairy Foods Association hold 2021 International Sweetener Colloquium online, through Wednesday.

 

All 270 Apple Stores in the United States are now open for the first time in nearly a year, though some still have restrictions, such as being appointment-only. Stores in Texas were the last to reopen following additional delays caused by an Arctic blast in February.

 

Market perspectives:

 

     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is slightly higher early today.  The U.S. Treasury 10-year note is presently trading around 1.445% for its yield.


     • Crude oil futures have moved into positive territory ahead of U.S. trading as traders focus on OPEC+ meetings this week. U.S. crude is trading around $60.90 per barrel and Brent around $63.90 per barrel. Crude oil Futures were lower in Asian action, with U.S. crude down 93 cents at $59.71 per barrel and Brent down 73 cents at $63.69 per barrel.

 

     • New York’s attorney general warned on cryptocurrencies as bitcoin rallies. The state’s top law-enforcement official said bitcoin’s price rise has lured more bad actors.

 

     • Some White House economic advisers are pushing to weaken the dollar to help American manufacturing, according to the New York Times (link).

 

     • Texas hauls gasoline from other states.  For the first time since Hurricane Harvey submerged much of the state’s energy complex underwater, Texas is being forced to truck in gasoline from other states. The freeze strained the energy supply chain at nearly every point. Meanwhile, Texas Public Utility Commission Chair DeAnn T. Walker resigned from her position as the fallout from the state’s energy crisis continues to spread. Walker’s resignation comes after Texas Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick yesterday called for her ouster, saying she had failed to adequately prepare for the grid emergency. Walker last week drew the ire of Texas lawmakers when she repeatedly disavowed any responsibility for the disaster.

 

     • Ag demand: Algeria tendered to buy a nominal 50,000 MT of durum wheat. Iran’s state-owned animal feed importer issued an international tender to buy 400,000 MT of animal feed barley as well as 60,000 MT of corn and 60,000 MT of soymeal. Taiwan’s MFIG purchased around 65,000 MT of animal feed corn, likely from Argentina. Japan tendered to buy 54,900 MT of food-quality wheat from the U.S. as well as 27,977 MT of the grain from Canada. Pakistan received offers in its tender to buy 300,000 MT of wheat. Egypt’s state grain buyer tendered to buy at least 30,000 MT of soyoil and 10,000 MT of sunflower oil.
 

Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include (Link to subscribe to FTT):

     • Soybean lineup at Brazilian ports longest on record
     • Consultant raises Brazilian bean crop projection as weather concerns ease
     • Argentine weather concerning, but Cordonnier maintains crop pegs
     • Ukraine’s export quota unlikely to have major impact on shipments

 


POLICY FOCUS


 

—  Vilsack: “This is going to be a very active and proactive USDA.” A key word for ag policy is equity, as USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday announced a commission to study the issue and named advisers for racial issues and market reform. The equity commission, Vilsack told the NFU’s annual meeting, is to ensure "we're treating all of our producers, especially socially disadvantaged producers, fairly.” He noted the panel would

“begin the process of investigating all of the programs at USDA to make sure that we identify and root out any systemic racism that may exist in those programs. … The reality is that we've not only had discrimination in the past, but we've had the cumulative effect of that discrimination, which needs to be addressed.” (Vilsack, who was confirmed last week by the Senate and sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris, is slated to speak at several virtual meetings this week. On Wednesday he will discuss hunger and USDA nutrition programs before the National Press Foundation, and on Friday, agriculture at the closing day of Commodity Classic.)

 

     Vilsack’s senior adviser for racial equity is Dewayne Goldmon, a southeast Arkansas farmer who served most recently as executive director for the Washington-based National Black Growers Council. “We need to accelerate a transformation of our food system, and that begins with embracing a call for racial justice and equity across food, agriculture and rural America,” Vilsack said. Goldmon received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Arkansas and his doctoral degree from Iowa State University, all in agronomy. After four years as a field researcher with American Cyanamid (acquired by BASF), he joined Monsanto Company (acquired by Bayer Crop Sciences) in 1995. He held various positions in technology development, where he conducted research on all southern row crops and managed research and development trials in soybeans, rice, and cotton. Later in his career, he worked on Monsanto’s government affairs team and in human resources, retiring as the outreach lead for Bayer Crop Sciences in 2019.

 

     Andy Green will be senior adviser for fair and competitive markets. He previously dealt with market and trade issues for Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. Vilsack said Green would advise USDA on steps needed “to make sure that we have better markets and fair markets will have an equity commission.” Green will be responsible for handling antitrust issues, pushing for price discovery and fighting over-consolidation. Before his work at the think tank, Green gave counsel to Kara Stein, former commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and worked as an aide to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) Before joining Merkley’s office in early 2009, Green practiced corporate law at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in Hong Kong and Shanghai. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University and a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

 

     On other issues, Vilsack said:

  • USMCA: This first full week in office, Vilsack said, he plans to talk with the Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development in Mexico and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in Canada about their commitments under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA). Vilsack said he will hold them accountable to their trade promises "to the letter." He particularly cited the need to make sure Canada complies with the dairy and wheat provisions.
  • Climate change: Vilsack reiterated a goal he's referenced in other public speeches — his vision to create viable, voluntary, incentive-based carbon markets so that farmers can get paid to store carbon. He said USDA will soon be asking farmers for input on how to create these markets so that they will be "designed by farmers, for farmers” and not for the investor class. Besides new initiatives like those aimed at establishing carbon markets, Vilsack said USDA climate moves will include a focus on the expansion of existing farm bill programs. The goal, he said, is to use those programs “in ways that will allow us to expand significantly and to invest in and to incent climate smart agricultural practices and regenerative practices.” Vilsack mentioned the potential expansion of several programs to address climate, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  (For more on this topic, see the energy policy section below.)
  • Biofuels: Vilsack said he is already working with EPA to strengthen America's ethanol industry, prioritizing small refinery biofuel waivers and weeding out larger companies that take unfair advantage of those waivers. “We're not going to see the kind of liberal use of waivers that were granted in the previous administration,” Vilsack predicted. He added that USDA will work closely with EPA to ensure the RFS “is enforced and implemented appropriately,” adding that EPA needs to implement the Renewable Fuel Standard in a way that is “enforced and respected” throughout the administration. With EPA already stating it backs the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on SREs, it is clear that potentially far fewer of those exemptions will be granted ahead. But the formal action on that front is awaiting a Supreme Court review of the 10th Circuit decision and the conclusion there is not expected until sometime this summer.
  • Markets: Vilsack will look into the reestablishment of a task force on concentration and fair markets that was established with the Justice Department in the Obama administration and whether it should be expanded to include the Federal Trade Commission and the Small Business Administration.
  • On broadband internet access, Vilsack said he is “skeptical” of the private sector’s ability to provide high-quality service in rural America because companies “can’t make the business case.” The government, he added, has to subsidize rural internet, noting he has spoken to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about using transportation rights-of-way to put in fiber optic cable. The climate agenda cannot be advanced without the data that would be obtained through rural broadband, he detailed.
  • On Covid aid as Congress prepares to pass another major coronavirus relief package, Vilsack said USDA will take time to "figure out who was left out, who wasn't supported adequately last time" and prioritize those farmers and commodities this time around. "The goal is, when all is said and done, everyone in the supply chain gets a fair shot at the resources," he said. Vilsack said that the last tranche of Covid aid that the Trump administration was implementing must be studied to determine that the payment system is appropriate and fair. He said the department is applying the fairness lens to its review of how up to $2.3 billion in Covid-19 aid will be distributed. He gave no schedule for the release of new payments under that program but noted that the application system is open and that farmers will have another 30 days to make applications after the new rules are announced. As for resources already deployed under CFAP, Vilsack said that indications are “the top 10% of producers in the country received 60% of those benefits,” while “the bottom 10% received 0.26% of those benefits.” Several regions and commodities “received a significant amount of support, and certainly support was necessary,” he explained, but he said a focus of the review will be on ensuring others are provided adequate assistance. “We know that the [Covid-19 relief/omnibus spending] legislation made reference to several key areas that have been left out in the past, we know that the [Biden Covid-19 relief plan] is also providing additional resources in that respect,” Vilsack detailed. “We want to make sure that when these resources are distributed, they're done in a fair and reasonable way.”
  • Covid vaccines: Over the next few weeks, Vilsack said his agency will also reach out to state governors to reiterate the importance of giving essential workers, including farmers, farmworkers and processing plant workers, early priority for Covid-19 vaccination and to make sure that states “honor the essential worker status and do not gloss over” it.
  • He noted there were many jobs that went unfilled in the Trump administration. In the Obama administration, USDA was considered one of the best large federal agencies in which to work, he said, but “today it is at the bottom” on those lists. The Trump administration, he said, “did away with teleworking” and signaled that they did not trust USDA employees. But teleworking during the Covid-19 pandemic has been productive, he said. USDA offices cannot be opened completely, he added, until “we are on the other side” of the pandemic. “We have to rebuild the morale, we have to listen,” he said.
  • Longer term, Vilsack said issues included hiring more USDA staff nationwide, expanding rural healthcare and broadband internet and creating markets for farm waste, such as new fertilizers. A revenue opportunity, said Vilsack, is through investment in new technologies “that can convert agricultural waste into a variety of products, chemicals, materials, fabrics and fibers.” He noted that the dairy sector has made progress on that front including the conversion manure into a variety of other products that can then be marketed. “Finally, there's the opportunity to continue to collect and to reuse methane from livestock operations that will allow us to add to the renewable fuel and energy mix of this country,” Vilsack said. USDA will be engaged in providing resources to help foster and promote those new markets and revenue streams, Vilsack said.

— House Ag Chairman Scott wants new disaster aid fund for farmers, industry. House Ag chairman David Scott (D-Ga.) spoke virtually before the National Farmers Union convention. He told about his recent discussions with President Joe Biden about getting Covid-19 vaccines to processing plants and rural areas. He also wants a rethinking of disaster relief, noting that “what we’ve done in Congress in the past is not getting the aid down to our farmers in time.” The solution, he said is creating legislation for establishing an “independent funding mechanism” away from the regular appropriations process, which he called “too political.”

 

— Freight rail industry ramped up its push for dedicated funding with a proposal from the Association of American Railroads that includes new fees on vehicles. Passenger rail advocates have also been calling for Congress to provide more predictable funding. The development comes after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg floated the possibility of Congress creating a dedicated trust fund for rail. “The problem with the national railway trust fund, of course, is that there isn’t a national railway trust fund,” Buttigieg said at a Feb. 25 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials event. “That’s something else that I think we might have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to weigh in the process going forward with Congress.” Predictable funding could make it easier for rail stakeholders to pursue big projects that stretch over multiple years. The source of the funds, and the level of support for a trust fund among lawmakers, remain unclear.

 

— IRS allows 2020 PPP loan recipients to get retention credit. Businesses that received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan in 2020 can now formally receive a tax credit for keeping employees on payroll, the IRS announced yesterday. The IRS issued guidance (Notice 2021-20) clarifying that businesses with forgiven PPP loans can still claim the employee retention credit meant to encourage businesses to keep employees on their payroll, as directed by the newest pandemic relief law signed in December. But for new loans made in 2021, the agency said it plans to release additional guidance for the new round of funding, which opened on Jan. 11.
 


BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL


 

—  Senate voted, 64-33, to confirm Miguel Cardona as secretary of Education.

— Senate Judiciary Committee advanced President Joe Biden’s nomination of Merrick Garland to be attorney general.
Garland, a federal judge, won bipartisan support even though the panel’s top Republican, Sen.  Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) expressed concern that his policies may be too liberal. “It will be up to Judge Garland to stand up to efforts to turn the Justice Department into an arm of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party,” Grassley said, voting to approve Garland’s nomination although other Republicans, including Ted Cruz of Texas, voted against it. The nomination now will be taken up by the full Senate.

 

— Senate clears path for Raimondo confirmation. The Senate voted 84-15 on Monday to limit debate on the nomination of Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to be the next Commerce secretary. The action overcomes a hold placed on her nomination by Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and sets the stage for a vote on her confirmation today.

 

— Finance panel sets Tai confirmation vote for Wednesday. The Finance Committee is expected to vote Wednesday to send Katherine Tai’s nomination to become USTR to the Senate floor for approval, along with two others: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be HHS secretary and former Obama administration aide Wally Adeyemo to be deputy Treasury secretary.
 


CHINA UPDATE


 

China’s exporters hit by global shortage of shipping containers. Disruption to supply chains lengthens delivery times and leaves goods waiting at ports. Link to Financial Times article (paywall).

 

— China appears to warn India: push too hard and the lights could go out. As border skirmishing increased last year, malware began to flow into the Indian electric grid, a new study shows, and a blackout hit Mumbai. It now looks like a warning. Link to details via the New York Times.

 

— The Biden administration said it will use “all available tools” to respond to alleged unfair trading practices by Beijing as it conducts a comprehensive review of its trade policy with China. Releasing its first trade agenda, the administration said it is committed to using tariffs and other tools to combat alleged unfair trade practices, including unfair subsidies to favored industries and use of forced labor that targets Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.

 

— Biden USTR nominee pledges to ensure China tariffs are appropriate: Biden’s nominee for trade chief Katherine Tai said she’d work to ensure that tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on billions of dollars of imported Chinese goods are appropriate, signaling no immediate changes to the levies. “If confirmed, I will work with Congress to ensure that those tariffs are appropriately responsive to China’s practices; account for their impact on U.S. businesses, workers and consumers; and support the U.S. response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Tai said in written responses to questions from senators following her confirmation hearing last week. Biden last month directed his administration to identify supply-chain vulnerabilities for key goods like semiconductors and rare earths.

 

— China to crack down on counterfeit seeds. Today, China’s ag ministry announced it would crack down on the production and sale of counterfeit, low-quality seeds. The ministry issued a notice calling for a nationwide inspection of seeds. Such moves offer more signals China is gearing up to roll out GMO seed.

 

U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link

 


TRADE POLICY


 

— New WTO chief pushes members to make progress on some ag issues ahead of ministerial. Getting progress on a relatively focused number of issues ahead of the 12th Ministerial Conference is the push from new WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. In her first remarks since taking over the top trade post, Okonjo-Iweala called on members to keep the trade body relative, saying the world “is leaving the WTO behind.”

 

     She outlined ag issues that she believed could be resolved or addressed before the ministerial meeting, including public stockholding, special safeguard mechanisms, cotton, and exempting World Food Program (WFP) purchases from export restrictions as possible areas agreement can be reached. 

 

     She also called on members to “agree on the road map for reform of the Dispute Settlement System and prepare a work program to achieve this which can be endorsed” at the ministerial conference.

 

     Bottom line: She did not offer any specifics on how to move issues to the finish line, but she is trying to get the world trade body back in the business of finding solutions, not just talking about issues without reach conclusions.

 

— USTR trade agenda report perhaps more notable for what is not included. The 2021 Trade Policy Agenda report released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) (link) covers trade issues for the new administration, but it did not include mention of renewal of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or a focus on concluding trade deals with Kenya or the U.K. The report outlined the actions that have taken place those negotiations, but did not lay out a timeline for either accord. Link to fact sheet.

 

     On China, the report noted key aspects of the U.S./China Phase 1 agreement, including on dispute settlement. “Importantly, the Phase 1 Agreement establishes a strong dispute resolution system that ensures prompt and effective implementation and enforcement,” the report noted. But there is no mention in the report of any Phase 2 negotiations with China. The report said the Biden administration will “pursue strengthened enforcement to ensure that China lives up to its existing trade obligations,” and will make it a “top priority” to address what they labeled “widespread human rights abuses” relative to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

 

     On digital services taxes (DSTs), the report said that developments are “ongoing” relative to several trading partners, including the EU.

 

     Regarding the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the report noted the U.S. requested consultations with Canada over their administration of tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) for dairy, noting the U.S. was “concerned about Canada’s allocations of dairy TRQs.” The final notation in the section on USMCA and dairy indicates the two sides held consultations in December 2020 via videoconference. The report also revealed that Canada requested consultations with the U.S. over a safeguard measure on certain crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells imported into the U.S., with Mexico requesting the joint the consultations Dec. 31. USTR also pledges to use USMCA’s new "Rapid Response Mechanism" to bring labor cases against Mexico if it violates the pact’s commitments. USTR also said it will combat forced labor in China and other nations.

 

     Carbon border adjustment: USTR said the Biden administration will also explore “market and regulatory approaches” to reduce carbon emissions in global trade. That includes “consideration of carbon border adjustments” — tariffs on carbon-intensive goods from nations without their own climate regulations.

 

     Regarding currency manipulation, USTR’s report makes clear President Biden does not plan to return sole jurisdiction over currency policy to the Treasury Department, after the Trump administration allowed a greater role in that space for the Commerce Department and USTR. “The Biden administration will examine how Treasury, Commerce and USTR can work together to put effective pressure on countries that are intervening in the foreign exchange market to gain a trade advantage,” the report said.

 

     On the direction ahead for trade policy, the report emphasized the Biden administration will seek to make workers’ rights a key in trade matters and would bring more focus on the issue of climate change, including using “our strong bilateral and multilateral trade relationships to raise global climate ambition.”

 

     The report also made mention relative to agriculture in what it labeled “erratic trade actions” in “recent years” that have harmed agriculture via retaliatory actions by other countries and resulted in lost exports and trade-mitigation payments to farmers.

 


ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE


 

— House Democrats today to unveil clean energy bill. House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats today will unveil a major clean energy bill aimed at achieving net-zero greenhouse gas pollution by 2050. The measure, the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act, will be released at a teleconference at 1:15 p.m. ET by Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chair Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), and Energy Subcommittee Chair Bobby Rush (D-IL), the panel said in a statement. The CLEAN Future Act will serve as “the basis for comprehensive climate action this year,” Pallone said during a Feb. 18 Energy Subcommittee hearing. The bill will include a federal clean electricity standard.

 

— No new gas stations in this California city. Petaluma, California — a city of 61,000 residents and 15 square miles in size — has become the first city in the U.S. to permanently halt the construction of new gas stations. The legislation will also outlaw new pumps at existing stations and streamline the process for adding more EV infrastructure like electric charging bays and hydrogen fuel cell facilities. The new prohibition is part of Petaluma's plan to completely phase out carbon emissions by 2030, though other environmental are pushing for a ban on the entire Sonoma County, which includes Petaluma and eight other cities. Last year, California banned the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 and will require 75% of heavy trucks sold locally to be electric by that date. There are also plans to build an electric highway along the Pacific Coast.

 

Vilsack predicted farms would provide “early wins” for the Biden administration’s efforts to counter climate change and signaled he will draw on the department’s borrowing authority to fund initiatives to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. During virtual comments at NFU’s annual confab, Vilsack said he believes USDA has “some flexibility” to draw resources for climate change initiatives from USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which President Donald Trump tapped to fund a large part of a trade mitigation program and several Covid-related aid programs (CFAP).  

 

     Vilsack suggested he would take quick climate change action. His main climate adviser, Robert Bonnie, argued in a memo during the presidential transition for new USDA initiatives within the first 100 days of the Biden administration, including potential support for a carbon market.

 

     But Vilsack said “it’s going to take a while” for other sectors of the economy such as power generation, construction and transportation to switch to more climate-friendly practices. But agriculture is “in the best position to start early and quickly.” He predicted many farmers and ranchers would move to sequester more carbon in soil and reduce emissions if they are given “additional resources” through existing USDA conservation programs and carbon markets. “I intend to be very aggressive in this space because I honestly believe agriculture is primed to create a series of early wins on the climate agenda,” Vilsack said.

 

— An oil trade group is poised to endorse carbon pricing. The American Petroleum Institute (API) said the move to put a price on carbon emissions would be a step toward meeting terms of the Paris climate accord. "API supports economy-wide carbon pricing as the primary government climate policy instrument to reduce CO2 emissions while helping keep energy affordable, instead of mandates or prescriptive regulatory action," according to a draft statement. A decade ago, API was one of the strongest opponents to a Congressional plan on carbon pricing, though it is now the latest of several to support a "market-based" approach following an announcement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in January. The group doesn't back a specific pricing scheme such as a carbon tax, a move opposed by many API members. But some majors want the industry to go further in accepting the transition to cleaner fuels, including French oil giant Total, which left API over differences on climate change.

 

— After hitting a pandemic low in April, global emissions rebounded strongly and were 2%, or 60 million tons, higher in December 2020 than they were in the same month a year earlier, according to the latest data from the International Energy Agency (IEA). This should serve as a "stark warning" that not enough is being done to accelerate clean energy transitions worldwide, added Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. Major economies led the resurgence as a pick-up in economic activity pushed energy demand higher, while significant measures to boost clean energy were lacking. "If governments don't move quickly with the right energy policies, this could put at risk the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions," Birol continued. "In March 2020, the IEA urged governments to put clean energy at the heart of their economic stimulus plans to ensure a sustainable recovery. But our numbers show we are returning to carbon-intensive business-as-usual."

 


FOOD & BEVERAGE INDUSTRY


 

— Post Foods to settle sugary cereal class action with $15 million fund. A judge has given a tentative green light to a $15m settlement between Post Foods and consumers who accused the CPG giant of misleading shoppers by falsely advertising sugary cereals as healthy.

 

— Tyson offers vaccinations to Iowa meat plant workers. Tyson Foods Inc. announced it will offer Covid-19 vaccinations to its frontline workers at Iowa meat processing plants this week. Tyson is the U.S.’ largest meat processors and has around 13,000 employees in Iowa. The processing sector was one of the hardest-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The company has already vaccinated more than 2,000 U.S. employees.

 

— FSIS proposes requiring Internet access at meat, poultry plants, other facilities. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is proposing to require official meat and poultry establishments, egg products plants, and businesses receiving voluntary inspection services from the agency “have an internet connection to provide FSIS access to it for the purposes of conducting and recording inspection verification activities.” FSIS said they view Internet as a necessary service like utilities, lighting, heating and laundry services that should be provide. However, FSIS is not proposing to require those without Internet access to purchase it or upgrade their service if it is not adequate for FSIS to use. Comments are due May 3.

 


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE


 

 Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 114,499,553 with 2,539,926 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 28,664,604 with 514,657 deaths. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center said that there have been 76,899,987 doses administered, 25,466,405 have been fully vaccinated, or 7.78% of the U.S. population.
      

       Link to Covid Case Tracker
       Link to Our World in Data

 

— CVS, Walgreens look for big data reward from vaccinations. Administering Covid-19 shots comes with a valuable perk for retail pharmacies: access to troves of consumer data. Chains are collecting information from millions of customers as they sign up for vaccinations, enrolling them in patient systems and having recipients register customer profiles. Link or more via WSJ article.
 


OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE     


 

— FBI director to testify about Jan. 6 riot. Christopher Wray is expected to make his first extensive remarks about the violence at the U.S. Capitol before a Senate panel today, as the agency grapples with how to combat violent domestic extremism in the wake of the attack.

 

— U.S., Mexico cooperation. President Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador issued a joint declaration pledging cooperation on immigration, Covid-19 recovery and climate change.

 


 

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