Almond Board members briefed on state and federal legislative issues

 

Updates on current state and federal legislative issues were provided March 15, 2011 to almond industry leaders by Dee Dee D’Adamo, Senior Policy Adviser to Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced), and Jim Collin, Chief Consultant, State Assembly Agriculture Committee. Industry members gathered at the Almond Board’s Modesto offices, in addition to participating by conference call. The meeting was organized by Julie Adams, ABC Vice President, as part of an ongoing effort to educate industry members about legislative and regulatory issues of concern.

 

Budget concerns dominated both the federal and state outlooks, with both Collin and D’Adamo highlighting the impact budget cuts will have in agricultural policy areas.

 

Collin detailed the $15 million in cuts proposed for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Funding will be reduced for the High Risk Pest Exclusion Working Group, as well as for programs dealing with Imported Red Fire Ant, Pierce’s Disease, Light Brown Apple Moth, and the state plant and seed labs.  He pointed out that preserving funding for dealing with invasive species has emerged as a top priority for the coalition of state farm groups that was formed to make budget recommendations to CDFA Secretary Karen Ross.

 

Legislative Briefing.  Jim Collin, left, Chief Consultant, State Assembly Agricultural Committee and Dee Dee D’Adamo, Senior Policy Adviser to Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced), updated almond industry members on the latest state and federal legislative and regulatory activities.

 

Other notable budget cuts included the elimination of $10 million for Williamson Act subventions to participating counties. The funding had been totally eliminated by Gov. Schwarzenegger last year and farm groups worked to get the $10 million re-inserted into the budget, but it was eliminated again in the latest round of budget cuts. Collin felt that farm groups would again work to find legislative support to re-introduce the funding as the Legislature considers the latest budget proposals.

 

Gov. Brown’s budget also calls for the total elimination of $32 million in General Funds for the state’s fairs, with the potential of 25 smaller fairs being closed.

 

Budget legislation is currently being considered in the state Legislature. Collin noted that the Brown Administration is hoping to put forward proposals to extend current taxes, which are due to expire, as part of its effort to resolve the state’s deficit. If those measures fail on the June ballot, CDFA and other state agencies can anticipate even more drastic budget cuts, he predicted.

 

The Assembly Agriculture Committee, chaired by Assembly Member Cathleen Galgiani (D-Livingston) will hold its first hearing on proposed legislation April 6. The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold its first hearing on proposed legislation the week of April 4. A proposed bill of prime interest to the almond industry and other ag groups is AB 1176 by Assembly Member Das  Williams (D-Santa Barbara). The bill deals with the Toxic Air Contaminants Act (TACA). If approved, the bill would require the state Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to review all existing pesticides to determine their present or potential hazard to human health due to airborne emission from its use. This bill would require that the report on the health effects of a pesticide be completed within 180 days after the director's receipt of the evaluation. This bill would further require that the director's written determination regarding control measures for each pesticide be completed within 180 days after the listing of the pesticide as a toxic air contaminant and shall be made available to the public.

 

Dee Dee D’Adamo, in addition to serving as senior policy advisor to Rep. Cardoza, is also a member of the California Air Resources Board. She outlined various government funded air quality  incentive programs available to California farmers. To see a full list of the incentive programs, please click here.

 

She reported on the ag equipment rule and the truck rule.  The ag equipment rule will be developed later this year and finalized next year. The truck rule was finalized two years ago, but with the economic decline and some newer data, amendments to it were recently adopted. These included adding trucks from hullers and shellers to the ag truck category. Owners of these trucks have more time to meet the requirements if they are used more than a certain number of miles per year. Under the rule, qualified agricultural vehicles have at least until Jan. 1, 2017, to meet the new diesel standard. Agricultural trucks driven fewer than 10,000 miles a year will have until Jan. 1, 2023. Older, non-agricultural trucks must begin retrofitting their engines as early as 2011, depending on the age of the truck.

 

There are several funding sources for farmers who looking for financial assistance in retrofitting engines or purchasing new vehicles. She will provide a list of those funding sources to the Almond Board.

 

On AB 32, D’Adamo said she supported a cap and trade policy because “the alternative was to go in and regulate.” She noted that food manufacturing facilities are subject to California mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reporting, and those emitting greater than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year from stationary combustion sources using fossil fuels have been listed by the CARB.  She said there are no farms impacted by these criteria. The list does not include any almond huller/sheller operations. 

 

There is interest from some ag sectors in participating in an offset program. She felt there are some opportunities for ag but a lot of questions from the ag sector about how such a program might work. She has talked with the new CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and she indicated there is the possibility of putting together an ag carbon offset working group. D’Adamo said she would keep the ABC informed of those efforts.

 

Congress is considering the next Farm Bill. D’Adamo called the 2008 Farm Bill a win for specialty crop groups because various groups from throughout the country came together to secure funding for various specialty crop programs. However, the next Farm Bill will be under the same budgetary pressures being seen in this new Congress. It is not known if there will be a Farm Bill in 2011 or 2012 but regardless specialty crop groups will have to work hard to justify current funding levels and cannot expect to gain new funding.

 

Water issues continue to be a main focus for Rep. Cardoza.  She noted a recent bill, HR 869, introduced by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Merced) and co-sponsored by Cardoza that will increase the capacity of Lake McClure by modifying the existing spillway at the New Exchequer Dam.  The legislation will allow temporary (2-8 weeks) storage of water in wet years within existing FERC Project boundaries, instead of releasing the excess water immediately when it is not needed downstream. HR 869 would create approximately 70,000 acre feet of additional water available. She was hopeful there will be future opportunities to address the severe water challenges facing California farmers.

 

Web resources

 

California Assembly
California Senate
U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Senate