September 19, 2022
- Big Picture Outlook
- Thoughts from Team Torrey
- The Week Ahead
- A Quick Look Back
Big Picture Outlook
Rail Worker Contract Negotiations
Last Thursday, the railroad worker strike was averted by a tentative agreement with the major rail carriers and unions. President Biden, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were all involved in the negotiations. Now, the agreements need to be ratified by union membership in the weeks ahead. So far, the Transportation Communications Union and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen unions have voted to ratify their contracts. However, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) rejected their agreement last Wednesday and extended the “cooling off” period to September 29, allowing time for additional negotiations with the railroads. Votes from the other unions are still pending. The agreements include a 24 percent wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024, including an immediate payout on average of $11,000 upon ratification; $1,000 annual bonuses over five years; and no increase to healthcare copays and deductibles. In addition, the agreement by the two largest unions guarantees voluntary assigned days off and a single additional paid day off. Workers also can take time off for routine doctor’s appointments without being penalized and would not lose attendance points for hospitalizations and surgical procedures. It is unclear how quickly the unions will ratify the agreements or if there will be issues getting the rank-and-file support, which leaves some uncertainty that a strike could be back on the table. If there are credible concerns with ratification in the days ahead, we could again see precautions taken related to hazardous materials and other activities that the railroads initiated last week.
On the Congressional front, Senate Republicans Richard Burr (R-NC), the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking on Senate Commerce have a joint resolution to impose the Presidential Emergency Board’s recommended contract on the railroads at the ready. The pushed for Senate consideration on Wednesday, but there was an objection by Democrats. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) publicly stated on Friday that Democrats are prepared with a resolution to block a railroad shutdown if negotiations collapsed. What that resolution includes remains unclear.
USDA Announces Climate Smart Commodities Award Recipients
On Wednesday, USDA announced the initial 70 recipients of the Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities awards. Support for these projects totaled $2.8 billion, almost triple the $1 billion investment USDA was initially proposed. Selected projects are from all 50 states and Puerto Rico and will involve more than 50 thousand farms, encompassing over 20-25 million acres of working land. Recipients of the smaller funding pool will be announced later this year.
EPA Biofuels Updates
At the Growth Industry Biofuels Summit last week, EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency intends to finalize a rule before next summer to allow the year-round sale of gasoline blended with a higher level of ethanol in several states. Currently, summertime sales of E15 are allowed because of the use of an emergency waiver to address “extreme and unusual fuel supply circumstances” related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Several Midwestern governors are continuing to work with EPA to allow for E15 sales in their states, citing research that the 15 percent blend may not actually increase smog rates relative to E10 fuel. In addition, Reagan reiterated that the agency is working on a proposal to set a multi-year biofuel blending mandate under the Renewable Fuel Standard authority. He highlighted that the ethanol industry plays a role in meeting the Administration’s climate goals and complements efforts related to electric vehicles.
Taiwan Trade Agreement
Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing to discuss trade with Taiwan. The hearing showcased bipartisan support for strengthening relationships with Taiwan. Since the intent to negotiate a pact with Taiwan was announced by the Biden Administration in June, it has been clear that traditional market access deals and tariff reductions that require Congressional approval would not be part of talks. Instead, this deal will likely be similar to the framework of other agreements under the Biden Administration, such as IPEF, and focus on strengthening economic ties and making progress on non-tariff trade barriers.
Biotechnology Executive Order
President Biden announced an Executive Order (EO) to increase the use of biotechnology and address challenges within the federal regulatory system. Several reporting requirements and interagency efforts are identified in the EO. Federal agencies, including USDA, FDA, and EPA, will have 180 days to identify areas of “ambiguity, gaps or uncertainties” in regulation and will have 280 days to submit a plan to streamline the process and address those issues. In addition, USDA will be required to submit a report detailing how biotechnology can be used for innovation in crop yields, conservation, and land management.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, September 20
- 10:00am ET: House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry hearing on “A 2022 Review of the Farm Bill: Stakeholder Perspectives on Title II Conservation Programs”
- 11:00am ET: House Natural Resources Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing on a bill, H.R. 8802, that would require the Interior Department of the Forest Service to align management of public lands and waters with the president’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goal
- 2:00pm ET: House Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit hearing on “Assessing Crypto as a Tool for Financial Inclusion”
Wednesday, September 21
- 10:00am ET: House Rules Subcommittee on Legislative and Budget Process hearing on Right to Repair: Legislative and Budgetary Solutions to Unfair Restrictions on Repair
- 10:00am ET: Senate Environment and Public Works hearing to examine putting the Bipartisan Infrastructure law to work, focusing on state and local perspectives
Thursday, September 21
- 10:00am ET: Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry hearing to consider the following nominations: Dr. Jose Emilio Esteban, Mr. Vincent Garfield Logan, and Ms. Alexis Taylor
To see a full list of House and Senate Committee business, visit here.