A report from Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Governmental Relations team.

Electricians and Poultry Barns

The significant expansion of the poultry industry in Nebraska has led to some challenges in finding enough licensed electricians to serve the needs of poultry barn construction. The issue has prompted discussion about whether changes to licensing requirements and state regulations might be needed. Questions have also arisen about whether labor forces can keep up, given the ongoing electrical and construction needs associated with flooding and natural disaster recovery efforts. Those were among the topics of a hearing this week held by the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee at the request of Sen. Tom Briese of Albion. Briese’s Legislative Resolution (LR 231) was targeted to identify if improvements are needed to better position Nebraska to meet the construction and electrical needs of larger economic development projects for future state growth. Many Farm Bureau members are participating in and supporting Nebraska’s poultry expansion efforts. Nebraska Farm Bureau monitored the hearing.

Unfunded Mandates Impacting County Budgets

The Legislature’s Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee hosted a hearing this week to examine the burdens of unfunded mandates on county budgets. Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha and Sen. Andrew La Grone of Gretna introduced Legislative Resolution 149. Nebraska Farm Bureau monitored the LR 149 hearing recognizing that unfunded mandates can lead to increased property tax asking by counties. The study was to examine the legislative history of unfunded mandates, the costs of the unfunded mandates to each county in Nebraska, and the funding sources used by counties to cover the state mandates.

EPA Finally Releases RFS Rule, but Many Questions Remain

Oct. 15, the EPA officially released their rule aimed at quelling concerns from farmers and biofuel supporters over the waivers the agency had granted to oil refiners for the past several years. However, a seemly minor change has led to an uproar amongst ag state lawmakers and ethanol supporters. Under the proposed rule, EPA will use a three-year average to calculate annual lost demand based on the number of gallons the Energy Department had recommended exempting from blending requirements, rather than a larger number of gallons that are actually waived by the EPA. That could translate to a significantly smaller boost to biofuel demand — potentially a difference of hundreds of millions of gallons.

According to a released statement from NATSO, the trade association representing travel plaza and truck stop owners and operators, "The math here is simple. In 2016, the EPA waived 790 million gallons under the small refinery exemption program. In 2017, it waived 1.82 billion gallons, and in 2018 it waived 1.43 billion gallons. This averages out to 1.346 billion gallons waived per year over the past three years. To provide the accounting relief that President Trump negotiated in his deal just two weeks ago, EPA would need to ensure that 1.346 billion gallons are added to the 2020 renewable fuel obligations. Instead, the proposal EPA Administrator Wheeler issued today would provide accounting relief for just 580 million to 770 million gallons -- far less than the 1.346 billion gallons that President Trump promised.”

The EPA will hold a public hearing on Oct. 30, followed by a 30-day comment period to receive public input on their proposal. Nebraska Farm Bureau will submit comments to the EPA on their proposal by the Nov. 29 deadline.

Implementing the 2018 Farm Bill

The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing Oct. 17 focused on the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill. While questions on farm program signup and conservations programs were asked, the hearing also touched on other topics including hemp, ethanol, and trade aid payments. USDA Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky, the hearing’s lone witness, informed the committee that the USDA plans to issue a final interim rule for the national hemp program within the next couple of weeks.

“We have been in the interagency clearance process now for over 90 days, working with our federal colleagues through the Office of Management and Budget process to get input,” Censky said. He also told the committee that farmers and biofuel supporters have been heard by President Trump and that he is committed to hit the full 15 billion gallons of ethanol required under the Renewable Fuels Standard. Lastly, Censky provided an update on the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) saying that $5.5 billion had been paid out since August. He said the department was continuing to monitor the marketing situation to determine if a second round of MFP payments were needed.