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POLICY WATCH

Redistricting Committee to Hold Public Hearings

The Nebraska Legislature’s Redistricting Committee will hold public hearings in each of the three congressional districts September 14-16. Redistricting, the process of redrawing maps for congressional districts and legislative seats, typically happens once every decade. Nebraska Farm Bureau is heavily engaged with this process and will testify at each public hearing to make sure senators understand the importance of protecting the voice of rural Nebraska in the Legislature. The public hearings are as follows:

  • September 14 at 1:30 p.m. CT
    • Central Community College
    • Room 555, Health Science Education Center
    • 3134 W. Hwy 34, Grand Island, Neb.
  • September 15 at 9:00 a.m. CT
    • Nebraska State Capitol Bldg.
    • Room 1524
    • 1445 K St., Lincoln, NE
  • September 16 at 10:00 a.m. CT
    • Scott Conference Center
    • 6450 Pine St., Omaha, NE

NEFB Tells EPA Current WOTUS Rule Works

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week closed its comment periods on the first step of revising the definition of Waters of the United Sates (WOTUS) by repealing the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR). The rule, which was put into place during the Trump administration, is a replacement of the 2015 WOTUS rule finalized under President Obama. Common Sense Nebraska, a coalition of organizations from across Nebraska that have come together in response to WOTUS, submitted written comments which included the following:

  • NWPR provides clear and understandable boundaries that allow our members to better understand what water falls under federal regulatory jurisdiction.
  • EPA Should Retain Additional Exclusions in the NWPR including groundwater, farm ditches, canals, ponds, and similar features.
  • The regulatory network provided by the state of Nebraska is substantial and should not be looked at as inadequate simply because it is being conducted by state-level regulators rather than the federal government.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Mark McHargue provided verbal testimony to the EPA during their final listening session. In his testimony, President McHargue told the agency that while not perfect, the NWPR provided clear limits on which bodies of water fall under federal regulatory jurisdiction.

Farmers and ranchers care about clean water, President McHargue said. From precision farming techniques that reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, advanced livestock manure management programs, not to mention the millions of acres of Nebraska farm and ranch land currently enrolled in federal and state conservation programs, it is clear that agriculture takes water quality seriously.

In closing President McHargue indicated that simply because some jurisdictional determinations did not find an area qualified for federal protection, it does not mean the water is unprotected. The idea that only the federal government can properly protect water quality is a slap in the face to the authors of the Clean Water Act who understood that the federal government should be a partner to state regulatory authorities. While not perfect, we would argue that state of Nebraska’s regulatory authorities better understand and know how to better work with the agricultural community than the EPA.

NEFB Submits Comments on USDA’s Meat and Poultry Processing Infrastructure Program

This week, the USDA closed the comment period on their formal attempt to “gather input from the public on how to invest an estimated $500 million of American Rescue Plan funds to improve infrastructure, increase capacity, and hasten diversification across the processing industry.” Nebraska Farm Bureau President, Mark McHargue, offered the comments included below which included prioritizing the following:

  • Grants to processors for modernizing or expanding existing facilities, including expansion and modifications to existing buildings and/or construction of new buildings at existing facilities;
  • Grants to processors for modernizing processing and manufacturing equipment;
  • Grant money for down payments to build new packing facilities. While many interested parties can obtain financing for a packing facility, some rural businesses could use the assistance in acquiring a down payment for new construction; and
  • Grants or cost share made available for state governments to assist in developing and implementing state inspection programs.

McHargue also stated that outside of those general priorities, USDA should also consider efforts by land-grant universities, such as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), to expand their reach into training the next generation of meat processing professionals. Developing educational infrastructure to help build the “Small Processing Plant of the Future” could go a long way toward diversifying our nation’s meat supply chain, create more competition within the meat processing sector, and create another outlet to help farmers and ranchers connect with consumers.

Lastly, McHargue pushed for USDA to provide assistance to very small, small and medium sized facilities. At the same time, McHargue noted that while very small and small packing plants are very beneficial to many communities, increasing livestock marketing competition will likely better occur if more medium sized plants are built. Providing funding for plants which slaughter a larger number of animals and employ more than 500 people, possibly up to 1,000, will go a long way toward providing more competition in a very concentrated sector. NEFB will continue to monitor the distribution of these funds and will work to keep members informed as the process moves forward.

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