NAWG Weekly Update: September 11, 2014

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Talks Rail Issues; NAWG Discusses in MN with BNSF

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing to discuss the widespread delays in freight rail shipments facing multiple industries, including agriculture. The hearing focused on rail service issues throughout the country, including congestion and locomotive and railcar shortages. Witnesses included: Arthur Neal, Deputy Administrator of the Transportation and Marketing Program and the Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Jerry Cope, Vice President of Marketing, Dakota Mill & Grain, Inc. on behalf of the National Grain and Feed Association; Calvin Dooley, President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council; Shane Karr, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Ed Hamberger, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. Senators and shippers complained that widespread delays in freight rail shipments are hurting a wide array of industries and driving some companies out of business. Mr. Hamberger said the industry is struggling to keep up with the increase in freight rail demand created by the oil fracking boom in North Dakota and two years of very large harvests and that the problem increased by an unusually severe winter. Hamberger claimed railroads spent $26 billion last year on new track and other capital improvements, and that shipping rates are the same level they were in 1988 when adjusted for inflation. Several Senators questioned Mr. Hamberger’s explanation for the causes of the delays. Senator Rockefeller (D-W.V.) has also introduced a bill to give the Surface Transportation Board, which regulates freight rail prices, more power to address delays and other problems.

Meanwhile, NAWG participated in the Semi-Annual Agriculture Rail Business Council meeting this week in Minneapolis, Minn., sponsored by the BNSF Railway. BNSF organized this group to give producers the chance to voice their concerns directly to the rail company. NAWG was well represented by three members of the Executive Officer team in addition to staff. Topics of discussion included perennial rail-related issues like service and rail-rates and interactions with the Surface Transportation Board, the railroads’ regulator, in addition to lengthy conversations about service delays along the northern tier and BNSF’s plans to alleviate them. “NAWG thanks the BNSF for the opportunity to continue to take part in the Ag Rail Business Council. This open dialogue between farmers and their business partners in the rail industry helps both parties to find common ground, as well as solutions, to problems facing agricultural shippers,” commented NAWG first vice president and wheat farmer from Washtucna, Wash., Brett Blankenship.

House Passes Bill to Limit EPA Overreach
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5078, the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014 by a vote of 262-152. The legislation would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from moving forward with the proposed waters of the U.S. regulation issued earlier this year. The bill would also require the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the Interpretive Rule (IR) related to agriculture and would require EPA and the Army Corps to work with states and local officials regarding the development of a new regulation addressing the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. NAWG supported the passage of the H.R. 5078 and is concerned about the lack of clarity and potential expansion of jurisdictional waters in the proposal that was issued in May. In July, NAWG urged the agencies to reconsider the interpretive rule because the IR, like the proposed regulation, raises more questions and concerns for farmers than providing clear understanding which waters are jurisdictional under the Clean Water Act and which activities may require permits.

House Proposes Spending Bill; Can’t Come to an Agreement 
On Wednesday House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Calif.) introduced a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown on September 30, 2014.  H.J. Res. 124 will extend funding for government programs until December 11, 2014. Funding will be held at the current annual cap rate of $1.012 trillion until Congress approves the annual appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2015. The bill is considered “clean”, because it does not contain any highly controversial provisions. The House was unable to come to an agreement on this measure and will break for the week without passing a spending bill. For a general summary of the spending legislation you can visit the House Appropriations website here.

Wheat Innovation Alliance to Hold Wheat Forum
The Wheat Innovation Alliance (WIA) Executive Committee will be hosting a Wheat Forum November 7-8 in St. Louis, Mo. The day and a half event will address the opportunities for and barriers to innovation in wheat. The Forum will engage representatives from the grower, grain handler, exporter, miller, baker and tech provider segments of the wheat industry to establish a common understanding about the major issues impacting the development of new innovation to improve the profitability and stability of the wheat industry. The meeting will provide a common understanding of the opportunities and barriers and identify research and communications needs to help make wheat more profitable. Please contact director of WIA, Burleson Smith at with any questions.