WOTUS on way out

Legislative Watch: President Trump signs executive order to withdraw WOTUS; trade and ag undersecretary wanted; White House may disregard WTO rulings; budget works begins, cuts coming; Starling special assistant for ag.

P. Scott Shearer, Vice President

March 3, 2017

4 Min Read
WOTUS on way out

Following through on a campaign promise, President Trump signed an executive order that begins the process of withdrawing and replacing the Waters of the United States rule. The executive order instructs the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reconsider whether federal jurisdiction extends to non-navigable streams.

WOTUS was finalized in 2015 and was one of the most disliked rules of the Obama administration by farmers and ranchers. A number of agricultural groups praised the Trump administration’s announcement.

The National Pork Producers Council says, “America’s pork producers are very pleased that the president ordered EPA and the Corps of Engineers to repeal or rewrite this ill-conceived, overbroad regulation. The WOTUS rule was a dramatic government overreach and an unprecedented expansion of federal jurisdiction and control over private lands. It was the product of a flawed regulatory process that lacked transparency and no doubt would have been used by trial lawyers and environmental activists to attack farmers.” The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says, “This extremely flawed rule would force ranchers and feedlot operators to get permits or risk excessive federal penalties despite being miles away from any navigable water. It would be one of the largest federal land grabs and private-property infringements in American history, and the president should be applauded for making EPA and the Corps reconsider this debacle. Ultimately, this rule should be taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery.”

Ag groups want undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs

A cross-section of agricultural is asking the Trump administration to establish a USDA office of undersecretary of Trade and Foreign Agriculture as required by the 2014 farm bill.

In a letter to President Trump, the groups say this new position would help modernize USDA’s trade organizational structure. The undersecretary position gives trade the status it deserves and would bring unified, high-level representation to trade negotiations. The last time the trade function of USDA was reorganized was in 1978 when total U.S. agricultural exports were less than $30 billion.

Those signing the letter include the American Soybean Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, North American Meat Institute, National Pork Producers Council and the National Turkey Federation.

White House may disregard WTO rulings

The White House outlined a new approach to trade in its report, “The President’s Trade Policy Agenda.” A major change announced in the report is the United States may ignore certain rulings by the World Trade Organization if those decisions infringe on U.S. sovereignty. The report says, “even if a WTO dispute settlement panel — or the WTO Appellate Body — rules against the United States, such a ruling does not automatically lead to a change in U.S. law or practice. Consistent with these important protections and applicable U.S. law, the Trump administration will aggressively defend American sovereignty over matters of trade policy.”

Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee which has jurisdiction over trade, says he agreed with President Trump that the North American Free Trade Agreement needs to be renegotiated. However, he says, “I strongly believe that our current trade agreements — including the WTO — have been successful for Americans because these agreements establish a firm rule of law to hold our competitors in check and open markets for us to sell our goods, services and farm products. They have also made a broad array of products available to American families at affordable prices. And when other countries don’t follow the rules, our agreements give us powerful tools through a dispute settlement process to retaliate against them.”

U.S. agriculture over the years has supported the WTO and a rules-based system because it brings stability and provides a framework for international trade.

FY ’18 budget process beginning

The White House last week sent its Fiscal Year ’18 budget blueprint to federal agencies for their review. The proposed budget is expected to ask for an increase of $54 billion for defense spending and cut non-defense discretionary spending by $54 billion.

Press reports indicate that the EPA and the State Department can expect huge hits. EPA could face cuts as much as a 25% or $2 billion with a staff reduction of 20%. The State Department and U.S. AID cuts could be as high as 37%. With this large of a cut in non-defense spending, almost all non-defense agencies will take some type of a cut. President Trump is expected to formally send his final FY ’18 budget to Congress the week of March 13.

Starling named special assistant to the president for ag

Ray Starling has been named special assistant to the president for Agriculture, Trade and Food Assistance. Starling recently served as chief of staff to Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). Starling previously served as general counsel for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He received his bachelor of science degree in agricultural education from North Carolina State University and a J.D. from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

About the Author(s)

P. Scott Shearer

Vice President, Bockorny Group, Inc.

Scott Shearer is vice president of the Bockorny Group Inc., a leading bipartisan government affairs consulting firm in Washington, D.C. With more than 30 years experience in government and corporate relations in state and national arenas, he is recognized as a leader in agricultural trade issues, having served as co-chairman of the Agricultural Coalition for U.S.-China Trade and co-chairman of the Agricultural Coalition for Trade Promotion Authority. Scott was instrumental in the passage of China Permanent Normal Trade Relations and TPA. He is past chairman of the USDA-USTR Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Animals and Animal Products and was a member of the USAID Food Security Advisory Committee. Prior to joining the Bockorny Group, Scott served as director of national relations for Farmland Industries Inc., as well as USDA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs (1993-96), serving as liaison for the Secretary of Agriculture and the USDA to Congress.

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