Federal Policy News

May 26, 2023

Supreme Court Delivers Big Win

for Ag Groups in WOTUS Decision

On Thursday, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) unveiled a unanimous decision in Sackett v. EPA in favor of the Sackett family. This represents a significant win for the couple (as well as ag industry), which has argued the EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act has far exceeded its original intent. While the justices were unanimous in their agreement to reverse a previous decision from the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling concerning the case, they were split 5-4 in their opinion. Penned by Justice Samuel Alito, the majority opinion introduced a new and more narrowed test to define wetlands, saying wetlands that are “indistinguishable” to larger waters should be covered.

In a press release that day, California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson stated, “[CAFB] appreciates the Supreme Court’s decision. Our farmers and ranchers have faced years of confusion over what waters are regulated by the federal government. Today’s decision brings greater clarity.” Other agricultural groups across the country praised the decision as well, which will impact far more than just the Sackett family. House Agricultural Committee Chairman GT Thompson (R-PA) called on the President and EPA to withdraw a final rule that expanded WOTUS regulations even farther. With the SCOTUS’ decision this week, that rule is largely seen as toothless, although the EPA might attempt to keep it in place while legal battles tied to that rule are ongoing. CAFB will have more on the impacts of this decision as it develops.

Sackett SCOTUS Decision

CAFB Press Release

AFBF Release

Debt Ceiling Talks Nearing Critical Stage

As we head into Friday afternoon, debt ceiling talks remain at an impasse between the President and Republican leaders. Speaker Kevin McCarthy most recently stated that the two sides are still deadlocked following the GOP’s insistence to include reforms for work requirements for unemployment benefits as part of any compromise. According to the most recent reports though, they are otherwise largely in agreement with a series of compromises that would include the following: a slight increase to defense spending, a spending freeze for non-defense programs back to previous fiscal year levels, increasing the debt limit through 2024, and returning a large portion of any unspent pandemic funds.

With next Thursday being the estimated deadline for getting a deal done, a compromise will likely need to be reached within the next 48 hours in order for Congress to be able to pass it in time. This is due to a procedural rule McCarthy agreed to during his election for Speaker in which bills will require at least a 72-hour review period before receiving a full floor vote. The Senate will also need to pass the legislation, meaning legislators have a slim window in which to get a deal one. The fallout for a failure to get a deal done in time could include significant economic repercussions, as the US has never defaulted on its debt obligations previously. 

CAFB President Testifies Before

House Natural Resources Subcommittee

On Tuesday, CAFB President Jamie Johansson served as a panel witness before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands in Washington DC. The subcommittee was reviewing several forest management bills, including the Forest Improvements through Research and Emergency Stewardship for Health Ecosystem Development and Sustainability (FIRESHEDS) Act. The bipartisan legislation would establish fireshed management areas that would lead to increased wildfire mitigation efforts via partnerships between the Secretary of the Interior, state governors, and private entities. These efforts would include the development of risk assessments, strategies to protect at-risk communities, and prioritize projects those areas deemed the highest threats to public health.

CAFB spoke in support of these measures and encouraged legislators to move forward with policies that quickly and efficiently address these significant challenges. “California’s private landowners are unable to increase the pace and scale of forest management on their own,” said Johansson. “Collaboratively, we must remain committed to finding solutions if we want to achieve fire resilient landscapes.” The panel discussion offered a key opportunity for CAFB and other stakeholders to help educate lawmakers on the dire need for improvements in the federal government’s approach to forest management. Johansson also noted the important role that the upcoming Farm Bill will play in these efforts, saying that the legislation will also add an opportunity to implement additional measures to combat these problems.

Hearing Recording

Submitted Testimony

CAFB Board of Directors

Concludes Meetings in Washington DC

This week, many of CAFB’s Board of Directors participated in a series of events and meetings in the nation’s capital, ranging from Members of Congress and their staffs to several of our ag industry partners. On Wednesday, they joined with officers and staff in a series of Hill appointments to discuss CAFB’s key priorities for this year’s Farm Bill. This included our top level priorities of expanding risk management tools such as crop insurance, creating a more robust forestry title capable of handling our unique wildfire and forest health challenges, supporting USDA’s technical assistance programs through sufficient staffing, modernizing the definition of “rural” and adjusting adjusted gross income (AGI) limits to account for California’s high costs of farming, and several other areas of importance.

The groups met with nearly two dozen lawmakers and/or their staffs from both House and Senate, highlighting the importance of growing relationships beyond our state’s delegation. With roughly half of Congressional members having this as their Farm Bill, education is a key tool of both CAFB and our fellow state organizations. Members were generally quite receptive of many of our needs and noted the importance of making sure the nation’s largest agricultural state remains well represented in internal discussions on the Hill. On the issue of timing for the Farm Bill though, legislators were more conflicted on how they saw it developing. Some suggested the September deadline would be met, while others were less hopeful that something could get done so soon. CAFB will certainly continue ahead in the hopes that the legislation can get wrapped up by that deadline, particularly with our key policy priorities included. We will update members as this develops. 

USDA Requests Input on Upcoming Ag Surveys

Over the next several weeks, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will be conducting two major mid-year surveys. This includes the June Agricultural Survey and the June Area Survey. The two pieces are amongst the largest surveys the agency conducts, which helps contribute to acreage estimates for given commodities. Those contacted by NASS should receive a unique barcode to enter for filling out the forms online, which can be found here (some might have the opportunity to answer via phone). Collected information will be kept confidential and assist in helping the agency’s efforts as they collect the acreage and stock data. Members are encouraged to participate if they are selected to participate in the surveys.

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Federal Policy Team
Matthew Viohl
Federal Policy, Director
Erin Huston
Federal Policy, Consultant