Coalition releases report warning that the Revolving Door is giving business interests undue influence
(Friday, Oct. 28, 2005 -- CropChoice news) -- 1. Coalition releases report warning that the Revolving Door is giving business interests undue influence over federal policy and procurement decisions 1. Coalition releases report warning that the Revolving Door is giving business interests undue influence over federal policy and procurement decisions FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE WASHINGTON - Business interests are "capturing" the federal government and exerting undue influence over policy and procurement decisions as a result of the revolving door—the frequent appointment of corporate executives and lobbyists to public posts and the movement of government officials into lucrative jobs in the private sector. So warns a report titled A Matter of Trust issued today by the Revolving Door Working Group. The report is available on the Working Group’s website at http://www.revolvingdoor.info The Revolving Door Working Group is a broad-based network of 18 organizations ranging from Public Citizen and Common Cause to Farm Aid and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The Working Group promotes ethics in public service and an arm’s length relationship between the federal government and the private sector. The Working Group’s report calls for extensive changes in federal lobbying and ethics rules—a sentiment echoed by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA), both of whom appeared at a press conference today in Washington, DC. "For too long, lobbyists and special interests have had too much power in Washington, and much of that power is hidden from public view," charged Sen. Feingold (D-WI), author of a reform bill—The Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act (S.1398)—that incorporates a number of the same proposals as those put forth by the Revolving Door Working Group. "There’s an ethical cloud hanging over Congress and the executive branch," said Rep. Meehan who has introduced the Special Interest Lobbying and Ethics Accountability Act (H.R. 2412). "It’s time to take steps to restore the American people’s confidence in the federal government." Speaking on behalf of the Revolving Door Working Group, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said: "The mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and the Abramoff lobbying scandal are only the latest examples of how cronyism and excessive corporate influence are undermining the federal government. Addressing the revolving door problem will go a long way toward restoring integrity in the system." "Whether it's Katrina relief or support for our troops in Iraq, the American people deserve to know that our money is not being wasted and is being used effectively," said Chellie Pingree, President of Common Cause. "Our public servants must be just that—people who hold federal jobs because they have the right qualifications, not because they know the right people." The Revolving Door Working Group report provides a thorough analysis of the three major forms of the revolving door: THE INDUSTRY-TO-GOVERNMENT REVOLVING DOOR, through which the appointment of corporate executives and business lobbyists to key posts in federal agencies establishes a pro-business bias in policy formulation and regulatory enforcement. THE GOVERNMENT-TO-INDUSTRY REVOLVING DOOR, through which public officials move to lucrative private-sector positions in which they may use their government experience to unfairly benefit their new employer in matters of federal procurement and regulatory policy. THE GOVERNMENT-TO-LOBBYIST REVOLVING DOOR, through which former lawmakers and executive-branch officials become well-paid advocates and use their inside connections to advance the interests of corporate clients. Based on this analysis, the Working Group recommends steps including:
(Friday, Oct. 28, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --
1. Coalition releases report warning that the Revolving Door is giving business interests undue influence over federal policy and procurement decisions
1. Coalition releases report warning that the Revolving Door is giving business interests undue influence over federal policy and procurement decisions
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - Business interests are "capturing" the federal government and exerting undue influence over policy and procurement decisions as a result of the revolving door—the frequent appointment of corporate executives and lobbyists to public posts and the movement of government officials into lucrative jobs in the private sector. So warns a report titled A Matter of Trust issued today by the Revolving Door Working Group. The report is available on the Working Group’s website at http://www.revolvingdoor.info
The Revolving Door Working Group is a broad-based network of 18 organizations ranging from Public Citizen and Common Cause to Farm Aid and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The Working Group promotes ethics in public service and an arm’s length relationship between the federal government and the private sector.
The Working Group’s report calls for extensive changes in federal lobbying and ethics rules—a sentiment echoed by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA), both of whom appeared at a press conference today in Washington, DC.
"For too long, lobbyists and special interests have had too much power in Washington, and much of that power is hidden from public view," charged Sen. Feingold (D-WI), author of a reform bill—The Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act (S.1398)—that incorporates a number of the same proposals as those put forth by the Revolving Door Working Group.
"There’s an ethical cloud hanging over Congress and the executive branch," said Rep. Meehan who has introduced the Special Interest Lobbying and Ethics Accountability Act (H.R. 2412). "It’s time to take steps to restore the American people’s confidence in the federal government."
Speaking on behalf of the Revolving Door Working Group, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said: "The mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and the Abramoff lobbying scandal are only the latest examples of how cronyism and excessive corporate influence are undermining the federal government. Addressing the revolving door problem will go a long way toward restoring integrity in the system."
"Whether it's Katrina relief or support for our troops in Iraq, the American people deserve to know that our money is not being wasted and is being used effectively," said Chellie Pingree, President of Common Cause. "Our public servants must be just that—people who hold federal jobs because they have the right qualifications, not because they know the right people."
The Revolving Door Working Group report provides a thorough analysis of the three major forms of the revolving door:
THE INDUSTRY-TO-GOVERNMENT REVOLVING DOOR, through which the appointment of corporate executives and business lobbyists to key posts in federal agencies establishes a pro-business bias in policy formulation and regulatory enforcement.
THE GOVERNMENT-TO-INDUSTRY REVOLVING DOOR, through which public officials move to lucrative private-sector positions in which they may use their government experience to unfairly benefit their new employer in matters of federal procurement and regulatory policy.
THE GOVERNMENT-TO-LOBBYIST REVOLVING DOOR, through which former lawmakers and executive-branch officials become well-paid advocates and use their inside connections to advance the interests of corporate clients.
Based on this analysis, the Working Group recommends steps including:
Larry Mitchell, CEO of the American Corn Growers Association, highlighted the need for these reforms by focusing on revolving door abuses in the Department of Agriculture: "The movement of corporate executives and lobbyists into key posts at the Department of Agriculture—along with the movement of officials back into high-paying private-sector jobs—has resulted in a distortion of USDA policymaking. The interests of small farmers get lost in a Department oriented to the needs of big agribusiness."
The members of the Revolving Door Working Group are:
American Corn Growers Association * Center for Corporate Policy * Center for Environmental Health * Center for Science in the Public Interest * Center of Concern/Agribusiness Accountability Initiative * Common Cause * Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First * Defenders of Wildlife * Edmonds Institute * Farm Aid * Government Accountability Project * Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy * National Catholic Rural Life Conference * Organization for Competitive Markets * Project On Government Oversight * Public Citizen * Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility * Revolt of the Elders
2. EU makes new offer to cut farm tariffs
By AOIFE WHITE
BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union offered on Friday to reduce average agricultural tariffs by 46 percent, its steepest offer ever, in a proposal aimed at breaking a deadlock in world trade talks.
The EU said it would reduce the highest tariff rates by 60 percent and eliminate all subsidies for farm exports if trading partners made similar moves at a World Trade Organization meeting in December. The EU did not give a time frame for the proposed cuts.
"The EU's offer is substantial, offering new market access in agriculture and driving down trade-distorting farm subsidies," Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said.
The proposal improves on the EU's previous offer to cut tariffs on the most protected products by about 50 percent, and would also reduce tariffs on sensitive products such as beef, chicken, and sugar — though it did not say by how much.
French reaction to the offer was key, after the nation warned on Thursday that it would veto any world trade deal that made too many concessions on agriculture.
Mandelson said the offer was "at the outer limit" of the negotiating mandate given to the EU by its 25 national governments. He said the offer was Europe's bottom line, and called the cuts "deep and real."
"Europe is ready to work for a successful ambitious conclusion" to WTO negotiations, Mandelson said.
The 148-country WTO remains split on a new trade pact that aims to increase market access for poorer countries, boost the opening up of services sectors and to reduce farm subsidies.
Mandelson stressed the offer to the EU's major trading partners — the United States, Brazil, India and Australia — was conditional on "immediate movement in negotiations on trade in industrial goods and services."
The EU head office said U.S. commitments on food aid and export credits did not go far enough and wanted to see "real disciplines" on the most trade-distorting U.S. farm payments. Both Australia and New Zealand also needed to do more to prove they were reforming state trading enterprises, it said.
The EU said matching the U.S. proposal to cut tariffs by 90 percent was "implausible" for Europe's highly protected agricultural sector and would cause serious job losses.
Such a tariff cut would also "seriously damage" the 80 developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific — many former European colonies — who enjoy special trading rates with the EU, the European Commission said.
EU Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel tried to sell the cuts to European governments by telling them they could see real benefits from increased trade.
3. US ag trade proposal to be short-lived
By Alan Guebert Special to the Farm Forum
After a few tough months at home - falling poll numbers, staying at Rancho del Lazio while New Orleans flooded, Harriet "Who?" Miers - the Bush Administration sought to get its mojo working again by dropping an agricultural trade bomb in Geneva Oct. 10.
And a bomb it was.
In a closed-door meeting with some of global agriculture's biggest players, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman offered to cut American farm subsidies 60 percent in five years if other major ag players like the European Union and Japan lowered their ag import tariffs 55 to 90 percent.
In short, explained Portman to the slack-jawed group, the U.S. was "offering real cuts to U.S. farmers in exchange for market access" to other nations' dinner plates.
Well, not exactly.
Some of the proposed cuts, as many trade watchers quickly pointed out, were more like a shell game: Portman proposed to move the 2002 Farm Bill's counter-cyclical payments from one trade-distorting box, amber, to another less trade-distorting box, blue. (It's a slick move, but a move the WTO has already ruled illegal.)
If Portman and the White House hoped to create buzz with the offer, they succeeded - especially with the truest believers in the amen corner of American ag policy. The American Farm Bureau called the Oct. 10 proposal "bold action;" the National Pork Producers Council labeled it "ambitious."
Others in the usually harmonious bunch, however, kept their eyes on the pea. They saw the sleight of hand and reacted swiftly.
The American Soybean Assoc. called Portman's idea a "credible signal." Then, with Luther-like nerve, it informed trade pope Portman that his deal didn't deal with the "81 percent of the world's population" now living in "developing countries... (that) are the markets of the future."
Golly, the White House must have overlooked that fine point.
The National Association of Wheat Growers warned Portman and the Bush Administration that any plan like Oct. 10's to "unilaterally disarm" U.S. farmers and ranchers was "difficult to envision... when faced with yet unknown highs in fuel and other input costs and low market prices coupled with continued trade challenges..."
The crack in the mainline farm groups' normally solid free trade front is not new. For years it has been whitewashed over with silly American free-trade-will-make-us-millionaires bragging and the endless yak, yak, yakking of World Trade Organization negotiations.
Now, however, the yakking must turn into yielding. The December WTO ministerial in Hong Kong is viewed as the make-or-break meeting to get global trade talks, already a year behind the original Jan. 2005 deadline, back on track. As such, an ag agreement is job one and Portman views himself as the man for the job.
But Portman's offer - really the White House's offer - to get the stalled talks moving is more of a head fake than an honest step forward. Would any American farmer or rancher with an IQ anywhere north of zero give away 60 percent of their potential farm program subsidies - upwards of $12 to $14 billion a year in hard cash under the 2002 Farm Bill - for something as soft and nebulous as "market access" five years from now?
Not on your life and, as the soybean boys correctly point out, the vaunted "access" the Bushies seek doesn't even include a vague promise of open doors to developing nations that hold the largest American farm export potential.
The White House and Portman have other, closer-to-home, problems, also. When the Administration greenlighted Portman in Geneva, yellow lights began flashing in Congress. Old ag bulls on Capitol Hill were greatly displeased to see the foundation for their 2007 Farm Bill being dug in Switzerland.
"Let me be clear," scolded Senate Ag Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, in an Oct. 9 letter to Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, " ...I am deeply concerned the Administration is using the current negotiations to reshape farm policy without the full input of Congress and grassroots support."
No question. And it's also using current WTO talks to preposition itself against another disaster - one it sees coming for a change - Hong Kong.
Columnist Alan Guebert is the owner of Ag Comm in Delavan, Ill. Guebert's Farm and Food File is published weekly throughout the U.S. and Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Portman: EU to blame for slow progress
By Jerry Hagstrom DTN Political Correspondent
WASHINGTON (DTN) -- U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and Agriculture Secretary Johanns said Thursday that their meetings with other trade ministers on agriculture at the Doha Round in Geneva this week had made no progress and the European Union was to blame.
In a telephone call to U.S. reporters from Geneva, Portman said, "The European Union has not come forward with a proposal they need to make on market access. It is discouraging. It has become very urgent that they look forward and keep the round from being derailed."
Portman said that he would return to Washington Friday but that he would be available to return to Geneva at any point. "I am truly trying not to be melodramatic but I think we are very close to that drop-dead date," Portman said. He added that World Trade Organization Managing Director Pascal Lamy and Crawford Falconer, the New Zealand ambassador who heads the agriculture negotiations, have said that the WTO needs to reach agreements on agriculture within the next few weeks.
Johanns added, "If something is not together by the end of the month," the Doha Round and the meeting of trade ministers in Hong Kong in December are "in jeopardy."
Portman somewhat surprisingly praised Japan's role in the negotiations. Japan, which has high subsidies and high tariffs, particularly on rice, had rejected the U.S. offer to cut its trade-distorting subsidies in exchange for better market access to other countries as too bold to be a basis for the negotiations.
But Portman said Thursday that Japan has been participating as a member of the G10 group of countries that subsidize more heavily than either the United States or the European Union and that the G-10 countries have been offering deeper tariff reductions than the European Union is offering. "We feel Japan is making constructive comments," Portman said, adding that he believes there has been fresh thinking in Japan since its recent election.
Johanns added that the G-10 offer showed how puny the EU offer is.
The United States proposed that countries cut their highest tariffs 90 percent. The European Union has countered with an offer that Portman has said would result in no more than about a 25-percent cut.
Portman and Johanns did not provide details of the offer from the G-10, which in addition to Japan includes Iceland, Israel, South Korea Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Norway, Switzerland Bulgaria and Taiwan.
Johanns said the European Union had to be in the "ballpark" of the G-20 offer to be taken seriously, but added that statement did not mean the United States was signaling acceptance of the G-20 proposal. The G-20 countries led by Brazil and India had proposed that developed countries cut their tariffs 54 percent and that developing countries cut their tariffs 36 percent.
Johanns noted that the G-20 countries want the U.S. to reduce subsidies even more and hinted that the U.S. might do that, but that such concessions depend on more market access.
On Wednesday, Portman praised an offer from the G-20 group and Australia to limit the number of sensitive products -- those that would be particularly uncompetitive with imports -- to 1 percent of tariff lines, the same as the U.S. proposal. Portman noted that the current E.U. proposal allows for 8 percent of tariffs, 160 different tariff lines, to be deemed sensitive and thus exempt from strong cuts.
Portman said it is important to reach agreement on agriculture so that trade negotiators can move on to the subjects of manufacturing, services and trade rules in order to make progress in those areas before the Hong Kong meeting.
European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said this week that the European Union would not make another offer on agriculture until it has received offers on manufacturing and services, but Portman said Thursday, "The problem is that this round from its inception has had agriculture as its centerpiece. Other members cannot wish that away. That is the reality."
Portman said he believes Mandelson is "well intentioned" and that he does not blame him or European Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel for the level of the EU offer. "It is the intransigence of a relatively small number of European countries," Portman said.
Portman did not mention France by name, but Oxfam International, the British charity, said in a news release today that the "French limit Europe's scope." The Oxfam news release said that both the United States and the European Union need to make deeper cuts in their subsidies to help the developing countries, but that the European Union's lack of a serious offer could give the U.S. the excuse to dilute concessions already made:
"It would be tragic if the E.U, gave the U.S. an excuse to backtrack," Oxfam said.
5. U.S. trade proposal full of sound and fury
by Paul Beingessner
The announcement last week that the United States has proposed major cuts to its agricultural subsidy regime in return for even larger cuts by the European Union set the world's press corps buzzing. The proposal, it said, has given new life to the stalled Doha round of World Trade Organization talks.
According to reports the U.S. volunteered to reduce its "trade distorting" domestic subsidies by 60 percent, provided the EU and Japan cut theirs by 80 percent. Another important part of the U.S. proposal was its call for a reduction in tariffs, the duties countries impose on imports in order to protect their farmers from foreign competition. The third element to the American plan is an end to export subsidies by all countries by 2010.
At a quick reading, it all sounds fairly good, if you are a Canadian farmer. However, a bit of scrutiny reveals a whole nest of flies in the ointment.
On domestic subsidies, the operative word is "trade distorting". The definition of trade distorting has not yet been revealed, but governments of several countries have questioned whether this will actually mean any decrease in support to heavily subsidized American farmers.
They have good reason to wonder. For one thing, the starting point for reductions in subsidies is much higher that current subsidy levels! "Reductions" might only bring the allowable levels down to what they are now. For another, right after the U.S. rep to the WTO issued the plan, the chair of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, Saxby Chambliss, warned that the administration not to tamper with overall support to American farmers. To gain his support, and by implication that of the committee, the proposal must promise no overall reduction in U.S. agricultural funding.
Chambliss laid out American strategy pretty clearly when he said the government "should commit to reduce trade-distorting domestic support in exchange for other forms".
If you take these comments, which were echoed to some extent by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, and combine them with American performance in other trade issues, it seems clear that what we will get from the WTO is a lot of sound and fury, signifying very little.
Perhaps most damaging to the notion that the WTO will fix up agriculture is the timetable laid out by the U.S. Domestic subsidy reductions, if indeed they occur, would begin in 2008 and be complete in 2023. This is beyond the farming lifetime of the average prairie farmer, who is now in his fifties. Export subsidies, which have been little used in recent years, would go by 2010.
Canadian farmers should take one thing in particular from the noise. The WTO will not assist them in their current disastrous situation. This leaves the onus on the federal government to decide if it wants to have an ag sector that is healthy and supports viable rural and urban communities. In 1995, the Liberal government ratcheted down farm subsidies on the promise the WTO (GATT back then) would mean we would not need them. The farm economy has been on a downward slide ever since.
There is another problem with the WTO and its proposals on agriculture. There is much evidence that by 2023, if not sooner, the world demand for oil will be greater than production. While shortages may not be overwhelming at first, prices will be driven far higher than today's frightening levels. This will affect not only agriculture production around the world, but also trade in agricultural goods as transportation costs rise exponentially. Will we still import Mexican lettuce and Scandinavian oats? Will we be able to compete in Asian countries with Australia, which is much closer? How will countries with a food deficit deal with rising transportation and processing costs? Will there be wars for food, as there are now wars over oil?
The WTO makes no predictions or comments on these issues. But energy costs will likely have a bigger impact on farmers in 2023 than "trade distorting subsidies". If, indeed, there are any farmers left.
(c) Paul Beingessner (306) 868-4734 phone 868-2009 fax email@example.com
6. US spending on farm subsidies likely to set record
www.chinaview.cn 2005-10-14 02:33:07
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 (Xinhuanet) -- US spending on farm subsidies could set a record this year even as the Bush administration tries to persuade member nations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it is serious about overhauls, the Wall Street Journal said Thursday.
The outlook for such record spending on farm subsidies was triggered Wednesday by the Agriculture Department's latest crop report, the journal said.
In the report, the department raised its harvest forecasts for corn, soybeans and cotton, signaling that crop prices will sink low enough for many farmers to receive far bigger federal checks than they did last year.
The journal said some federal officials believe the cost of subsidy programs could approach or exceed the record of 22.9 billion dollars set in 2000, when depressed crop prices pushed the Midwest farm belt into recession.
Farm-subsidy costs "are likely to be a record this year," KeithCollins, the department's chief economist, was quoted as saying inan interview Wednesday.
The world's poor nations, which tend to be heavily dependent on agriculture, complain that US and European Union's farm subsidies spur growers to produce gluts that depress prices of crops world-wide.
The United States and the European Union are proposing to gradually reduce spending on trade-distorting farm subsidies to win votes at the WTO from developing nations for an agreement that would lower barriers to trade in services and manufacturing.
This week, the Bush administration said the United States is prepared to cut its most trade-distorting farm subsidies by 60 percent over five years to 7.6 billion dollars, said the journal.
But US subsidy costs are soaring, the journal said. The Agriculture Department predicted in August that government payments to farmers would climb 61 percent to 21.4 billion dollarsfrom 13.3 billion dollars in 2004.
7. Dairy subsidies are on the way back
By Pamela Brogan
WASHINGTON - Minnesota dairy farmers faced with rising fuel costs and falling milk prices got good news and bad news Wednesday from Congress about a federal subsidy program that expired Oct. 1.
The good news is that the Senate agriculture committee voted to revive a federal dairy subsidy that helps thousands of small farmers survive by guaranteeing them a minimum price for their milk. The panel would fund it at $998 million.
The bad news is the program will be cut by 25 percent while other commodity programs will be trimmed by only 2.5 percent.
"It's going to be hard on the dairy farmer, there's no question about it," said Steve Schlangen, 44, who has about 80 cows on his farm south of Albany in Stearns County, the top dairy county in Minnesota.
"That's a pretty big cut when energy costs are as high as they are, but I guess it's better than no program at all," Schlangen said. "Hopefully, we won't have to use the program because prices will be high," he said.
Supporters of the subsidy say many small farms with 125 cows or fewer would go out of business without the aid. Opponents say it costs taxpayers too much money and props up small, inefficient farms in the Northeast and Midwest.
The subsidy expired Oct. 1 after providing more than $163 million to Minnesota farmers and $2 billion to struggling farmers nationwide in the past three years.
The committee voted to revive the Milk Income Loss Contract, or MILC, program and extend it through Sept. 30, 2007, when it could be wrapped into a big new farm bill.
Not final yet
The subsidy still must be approved by the full Senate and the House.
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, a member of the agriculture committee, voted in favor of the bill.
Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton, who also sits on the committee, voted against it.
"The cuts in the program are unfair," said Dayton, who is retiring next year. Dayton offered an amendment to fully fund the program to match other commodity levels, but it failed on a 16-4 vote.
Coleman said he voted against Dayton's amendment because he "wanted the program to continue" rather than be eliminated.
Coleman and Dayton - joined by senators from Vermont, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New York - beat back efforts by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to strip the dairy subsidy from the bill. Idaho's dairy farms are much larger than those in the Northeast and Midwest, and the subsidy is geared to help small farms the most.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a senior member of the agriculture committee, said he knows that states with huge farms would just as soon see small farms go out of business to reduce competition. But he said that would destroy a way of life in Vermont and many other parts of the country.
"Just like corn, wheat, soybean, sugar, cotton and (other) farmers, dairy farmers work hard for a living and should not be left out," Leahy said. He said he was glad that an initial proposal by Senate Republicans to slash the food stamp program for poor people was taken out of the bill.
Erin Kelly of Gannett News Service contributed to this story. Write
Pamela Brogan at firstname.lastname@example.org
On the Net
What they did
Commodity programs: 2.5 percent reduction in federal payments to producers of commodities including wheat, corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, cotton, rice, soybeans, dry peas, hay and peanuts from 2006 through 2010. Payments help cover part of the farmer's loss when market prices are low.
Payments under the Milk Income Loss Contract program to dairy producers also would be cut by 2.5 percent.
Dairy: Renews through Sept. 30, 2007, the Milk Income Loss Payment program of cash subsidies to dairy farmers. The program expired last month. The subsidies will be renewed at a funding level about 25 percent lower than the earlier program. Payments kick in when the price of fluid milk falls below a certain level. Because of the 2.5 percent reduction in commodity supports, the overall reduction in the MILC program is about 27 percent.
Conservation: Reduces the money available to future conservation reserve programs through 2010 without reducing payments under long-term contracts for land set aside for conservation. Future funding also would be reduced for conservation security on working farmland.
Environmental quality incentives: Reduces future funding to help farmers meet federal environmental regulations.
Food stamps: No change.
Source: Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee
8. Conservationists say Kansas needs wind farm rules
KINSLEY, Kan. - Concerned with the threat wind farms could pose to animal habitats, conservation groups have asked the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission to create guidelines for wind energy developments.
The state currently has no guidelines for wind farm placement, and regulation is largely left up to county commissioners.
Rob Manes, with the Nature Conservancy in Kansas and a supporter of wind energy, told members of Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission on Thursday at a meeting in Kinsley that guidelines protecting habitats would likely lead to wind farms being moved to cropland that has already been disturbed.
To date, the state only has one large-scale wind operation - the 110-megawatt Gray County Wind Farm near Montezuma. But the 150-megawatt Elk River Windfarm in Butler County is currently under construction.
He said putting wind farms on tallgrass prairie - such as the Elk River Windfarm being built in the Flint Hills - hurts prairie chicken populations, not just birds who might fly into the wind turbines. Grasslands are the most diminished ecosystem in North America and grassland bird populations also are declining, Manes said.
"Kansas has 8.5 million acres of tilled land with excellent resources for wind," Manes said.
Mike Hayden, secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Parks said the situation needs to be addressed. He noted that the Legislature hasn't adopted any rules and wants to leave it up to local leaders. He said he doesn't see lawmakers changing their position.
"We would not do that with a nuclear power plant," he said. "We would not do that with a coal-fired power plant."
A number of proposed sites for wind farming have cropped up in Kansas. Conservation groups have called for state action at a wind farm under construction in Butler County near Beaumont, where many prairie chickens reside.
Manes pointed out a study by Kansas State University biology professor R.J. Robel, which suggests prairie chickens don't like to nest near man-made structures, such as oil field pumps and power transmission lines.
Steve Sorensen, president of the Kansas Wildlife Federation, said 12 turbines on the Beaumont site went online this week.
"We support wind energy if they adhere to stringent siting guidelines," Sorensen said.
Commissioner Gerald Lauber, of Topeka, said that perhaps other priorities should be considered.
"I don't know how hard we want to pick up another battle," he said.
9. Rural Leaders Urge Congress to Increase Funding for Home Energy Assistance
American Agriculture Movement
Contact: Larry Mitchell (202) 835-0330
Washington, Oct. 21, 2005 -- The Alliance for Rural America (ARA) and its nine member organizations are delivering to the Congress and to President Bush a resolution supporting more adequate funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) .
"Rural America is facing one of its most challenging economic catastrophes in decades," said Larry Mitchell, ARA spokesman. "Corn and other commodity prices received by farmers have sunk to new lows, while energy prices have increased at an economically unsustainable pace. Today it takes well over three times as many bushels of corn to buy a barrel of oil as it did just one year ago. That is an inflation rate of over 200 percent!"
The resolution states: " Severely constrained state budgets, unprecedented poverty and rising energy prices are overwhelming the capabilities of faith, nonprofit, voluntary, and other community-based organizations to satisfactorily help eligible rural citizens heat and cool their homes." It also urges Congress to appropriate LIHEAP funds of $5.1 billion in the FY 2006 budget.
The ARA resolution (see attached) follows Congressional meetings during which farmers described the plight of rural America as natural gas and other energy sources continue to overwhelm farm budgets and rural economies.
The Alliance for Rural America's nine member organizations represent over 750,000 farmers and farm families. The ARA was formed in 1998 to represent the farm community on energy and environmental issues.
10. Grant for wind energy puts state atop program<.p>
Minneapolis Star Tribune (www.startribune.com)
Minnesota's push to develop renewable energy has gotten a nation-leading boost from the U.S. government, a federal official noted at a State Capitol news conference Thursday.
Thomas Dorr, undersecretary of agriculture for rural development, said a grant of $4 million to help a southwestern Minnesota group erect 15 large 2-megawatt wind turbines brings to $13.9 million the amount the state has reaped from the Agriculture Department's three-year-old renewable-energy-grant program.
That represents more than 20 percent of the program's nationwide total of $66.6 million, officials said. Other leading grant beneficiaries are Wisconsin, $9.4 million; Iowa, $7.2 million, and New York, $5.3 million. No other state got more than $3.5 million.
"Minnesota has provided an inordinate amount of leadership on renewable energy," Dorr said, beginning with ethanol initiatives in the 1970s. That, along with the "tenacity and foresight" of the state's political and business leaders, explains Minnesota's good fortune in the competition for federal grants, he added.
David Norgaard, president of Community Wind North LLC in Lincoln County, said the $4 million grant to his group will help area residents reap the benefits of development. With earlier wind projects, "most of the profits were leaving our area and going to large out-of-state corporations," he said.
11. NPPD to dedicate state's largest wind farm
By Algis J. Laukaitis / Lincoln Journal Star October 18, 2005
Ainsworth Mayor Russ Moody hopes he can make it to the dedication ceremony for the state's largest wind farm. "I'm trying to pick corn but I will try to be there," Moody said, noting that he and other farmers and ranchers are in the middle of harvest. (LJS)
After years of planning and months of construction, the Nebraska Public Power District is doing some harvesting of its own: renewable energy from winds that sweep across the Sandhills.
Tuesday, NPPD will officially dedicate its Ainsworth Wind Energy Facility. The public is welcome to attend the event which will be from 3 to 6 p.m. at the wind farm site, about six and a half miles south of Ainsworth, just off Nebraska 7.
Gov. Dave Heineman, state Sens. Deb Fischer, Ed Schrock, Don Preister and other officials will help dedicate the 36-wind turbine complex. Bus tours and a barbecue will be part of the ceremony.
Preister, who has promoted the benefits of wind energy in Nebraska for more than 10 years, said the Ainsworth project increases wind energy generation in the state by a factor of six.
"It's a dramatic increase," Preister said. Other commercial wind turbines in the state are located near Springview, Kimball, Lincoln and Omaha.
Preister said generating electricity from wind will not only help the environment by reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants but it also will help landowners who will receive rent payments.
"Instead of sending money to the Wyoming coal fields, we're giving this money to farmers in Nebraska," he said.
In case of bad weather, the dedication ceremony will be at the Ainsworth Community Schools Learning Center, 520 E. Second St.
Installation of the wind turbines was completed Aug. 15. A month later, the utility began commercial operation.
Together, the wind turbines produce about 60 megawatts, enough to supply electricity to about 19,000 homes annually.
"It has been an exciting year for NPPD," said utility president and CEO Bill Fehrman in a news release. "Within one year, we installed the state's largest wind facility near a community that welcomed us with true Nebraskan hospitality."
Ainsworth was glad to have the project and the economic benefits associated with it, Moody said. Although he can't put a dollar value on it, the mayor said the wind farm created a small boom, filling up cafes, restaurants and motels with workers for about six months.
"They (NPPD) purchased everything they could, all locally, basically in the Ainsworth, Bassett, Valentine and O?Neill area," Moody said.
Said Ainsworth City Administrator Kristi Thornburg: "Its just been a great asset."
Thornburg said it was difficult to say how much money the project has brought into the community but she noted that in April sales tax receipts were $3,800 over April 2004. Sales tax receipts for other months were lower.
NPPD's partners in the project include: Omaha Public Power District, Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, Grand Island Utilities and the Jacksonville Electric Authority, based in Florida.
The Jacksonville utility won't receive any power but will get renewable energy credits for its participation in the $81.3 million project.
NPPD spokesperson Beth Boesch said the Columbus-based utility does not have any immediate plans to build more wind turbines, but its long-term goal is to have 5 percent of its energy generation come from renewable sources like wind.
Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 473-7243 or email@example.com.
12. The organic crops of Farmer John
by Stephen Leahy
TORONTO - The eccentric life of farmer John Peterson, from the central U.S. state of Illinois, is the centerpiece of an award-winning documentary film that tracks the decline of family farms in the United States, and -- in a surprise twist -- a new resurrection.
"The Real Dirt on Farmer John" is a personal story of Peterson's tumultuous life as a farmer who endures bankruptcy, the loss of most of his land and accusations of being a Satan-worshipping drug dealer. It is also a story about the enormous challenges family farmers face in the United States.
Since the 1930s, the Peterson family successfully worked 360 acres (146 hectares) of land about 160 km north of Chicago. It was an idyllic life until the 1980s, when crop prices fell dramatically, leaving most farmers, including John Peterson, deeply in debt. Banks auctioned off farms and thousands of farmers committed suicide during those trying times.
Despite his seemingly unending difficulties, Peterson finds salvation and inspiration in a surprising place: Mexico.
After suffering a deep depression, a chance visit to Mexico led to a two-year stay where he began to recover his passion for farming.
Having seen how drugs had ruined the lives of some friends, Peterson was determined to farm without chemicals, or "drugs for plants" as he calls them.
He returned to his Illinois farm with plans to be the first organic farmer in the area. But making the transition to organic production was extremely difficult and Peterson struggled for several years until a group of Chicago residents asked him to create a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.
His "Angelic Farms" is now one of the most successful CSAs in the United States. Under this system, urban consumers pay Peterson in advance for a weekly delivery of fresh, seasonal organic vegetables.
Peterson spoke with Tierramérica at the presentation of the documentary about his life during the International Environmental Film and Video Festival in Toronto earlier this month.
TIERRAMERICA - How did your time in Mexico influence your decision to become an organic farmer?
PETERSON - Mexican culture is more vibrant and it feels much closer to the earth. You can see it in the architecture; the way people dress and live. The United States had much of that once but it's long gone. U.S. agriculture is lonely and desolate. Our farmers no longer have a close connection to the land. Mexican farmers helped me reconnect with the soil and ignited a new passion and determination to grow authentic, organic crops.
TIERRAMERICA - What do you think are the problems with the current U.S. farm policy?
PETERSON - The U.S. federal government is too closely connected with agri-business corporations. People who get many high-level positions in government have worked for big agri-chemical companies like Monsanto and others. As a result, government policy is completely tilted towards huge farming operations, the chemical companies and bio-engineering of crops.
On the other hand there is growing support within government for organic agriculture because the public is demanding it. It's tiny but it is growing.
TIERRAMERICA - How difficult is it for U.S. farmers to switch from conventional farming to organic?
PETERSON - It requires different skills and a different mindset to farm without chemicals. Soil does become dependent on chemical fertilizers and it goes into withdrawal like a drug addict. So you have to survive that period, which can take three years. And then you have to find a market for your crops. I understand why people don't switch (to organic farming), but there are people who do. It's a different way of farming. You have to be half-crazed to stay long enough to make it work.
TIERRAMERICA - What is the future of U.S. Agriculture?
PETERSON - All I know is using the past or present to predict the future doesn't work. The booming market for organics with its 25-percent price premium is now very attractive to big companies including agribusiness. Instead of organics leading a resurgence of family farms with people working close to the soil and raising their families, we could end up with large-scale organic production owned by huge companies.
I'd like to see small farms dotting the landscape again and I would love it if they were viable, but I don't know if it is going to work out. I could be wrong -- people could vote with their money to support small farms.----------------
Stephen Leahy is an IPS correspondent. Originally published Oct. 8 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialized news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.