Ellyn Ferguson

USDA official to resign, leaving civil rights post vacant
Lawmakers say her managerial style caused discord and discouraged employees from filing complaints

Corrected 4:50 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19 | The effort to fill the top Agriculture Department civil rights post got a setback this week with the resignation of Naomi C. Earp, the nominee for the position who has been serving as deputy assistant secretary for civil rights.

Earp, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President George W. Bush, has been under fire from Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations.

Senate passes USMCA bill, giving Trump a win on trade
The Senate voted 89-10 to clear the bill for Trump’s signature

The Senate approved implementing legislation Thursday for a renegotiated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement, giving President Donald Trump a victory as the Senate moved to swearing in its members as jurors in Trump’s impeachment trial.

The Senate voted 89-10 to clear the bill for Trump's signature, with several dissenting Democrats citing the absence of climate change provisions as a lost opportunity to address the issue on an international scale since Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who negotiated the deal, watched the vote from the public gallery.

South Dakota tribe clears hemp plan but governor opposes industry
South Dakota is one of three states that don’t allow production of industrial hemp

The Flandreau Santee Sioux cleared a major hurdle when the Agriculture Department approved its plan for growing industrial hemp on reservation land, but the tribe may face other obstacles in a state where laws still prohibit hemp farming.

Gov. Kristi Noem, a former Republican House member, vetoed legislation in 2019 that would have amended state law to allow South Dakota farmers to grow hemp after Congress legalized the plant and its products in the 2018 farm bill. Federal law had previously treated hemp, like its botanical cousin marijuana, as an illegal substance although hemp has a lower concentration of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

US irks Mexico with a labor detail in trade implementing bill
US oversight of Mexican factories is a sensitive issue

A seemingly small detail in the 239-page implementing legislation for a revised U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement has stirred objections from Mexico as the House prepares to vote this week on the pact. The legislation proposes more than $2 billion in U.S. money to enforce the agreement and to deal with its consequences.

Jesus Seade, Mexico’s undersecretary of foreign affairs for North America, said over the weekend he was surprised to find that the bill calls for posting up to five Labor Department personnel to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico to oversee his country’s compliance with labor provisions. Seade said a separate packet of revisions to the proposed USMCA signed by the three countries on Dec. 10 doesn’t note that number.

Pelosi and Pence eye voters with USMCA agreement
Democrats and Trump appear to see the agreement as a rallying issue as they head into 2020 elections

Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed victory for House Democrats Tuesday, saying they had reshaped a trade agreement designed to replace the long vilified 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement that organized labor has blamed for manufacturing jobs lost to Mexico.

In a sign of the potential political importance of the agreement to a core constituency, Pelosi and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., repeatedly thanked Richard Trumka, president of the influential AFL-CIO, for prodding Democrats to get the best deal possible for enforcement of new ambitious labor laws in Mexico that include workers’ right to form unions to negotiate for better pay and work conditions.

Some fear new federal rules on hemp production may go too far
Lawmakers and policymakers still aren’t distinguishing between hemp and marijuana, advocates say

Congress opened the door in 2018 to what many in the agriculture sector hope will be a 21st-century money crop: hemp. But the budding industry must first escape the shadow of marijuana, hemp’s botanical cousin.

The efforts in Washington, as well as in state and tribal governments, to regulate hemp production seek a balance between encouraging the new industry and deterring pot growers who might sneak under the legal umbrella now covering hemp.

USDA's hemp rules open door to states to set up regulations
McConnell led drive to legalize the crop

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Tuesday his department was opening "a new economic opportunity for America’s farmers” with the issuance of long-awaited rules governing legal hemp production and a path for state and tribal governments to submit regulatory plans for review.

The USDA is setting the minimum rules, allowing states to impose more restrictive requirements. One official said the department would "test drive" the interim rule in the 2020 growing season and then adopt a final rule.

Pot restrictions add risks and costs to hemp growing
Cannabis cousins hemp, marijuana are often hard to tell apart

Hemp and marijuana, both cannabis plants, are hard to tell apart. The average person and law enforcement officer can struggle to tell the difference in their leaves, buds and flowers. The two plants differ in their levels of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s high. Hemp typically has less than 1 percent, but marijuana can have THC levels up to 30 percent.

More important for many in the hemp industry, however, is a federal law that puts the THC ceiling for legal hemp at 0.3 percent of its dry weight. States can order the destruction of a grower’s entire hemp crop if testing finds the THC exceeds that maximum. The THC ceiling is designed to draw a clear line between the cannabis cousins, hemp and marijuana.

Hemp industry growth hints at potential field of dreams
“Maybe, just maybe, hemp could be a really big deal sometime in the future,” McConnell says

Sen. Mitch McConnell saw a potential replacement for tobacco in 2014, as the federal program to buy out tobacco farmers was ending. McConnell got provisions into a farm bill allowing states to license and monitor hemp production. The Kentucky Republican, now as majority leader, followed through in 2018, using another farm bill to take hemp off the controlled substances list.

Kentucky in 2019 is one of the leading hemp producers. Vote Hemp, an industry advocacy organization, says the state has licensed an estimated 60,000 acres for production. That’s still a fraction of the 58 million acres of tobacco the Agriculture Department forecast Kentucky would harvest in 2019, but it’s almost 12 percent of the Vote Hemp’s estimate of the U.S. acreage licensed to hemp.

Business fishing for USMCA support from pool of 100 Democrats
The Business Roundtable and other supporters are focusing on about 100 House Democrats in their search for bipartisan approval

The Business Roundtable and other corporate supporters of the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada trade pact are focusing on a pool of about 100 House Democrats in their search for votes for bipartisan approval of the agreement.

“We think there’s as many as 100 gettable Democratic votes. A very substantial minority we think can and should vote for it,” Business Roundtable President and CEO Joshua Bolten said Wednesday after a briefing on its quarterly survey of business confidence.

US, Japan move closer to limited trade deal
Trump, Abe outline possible deal that could open Japanese markets to $7 billion in U.S. goods

The United States and Japan have reached a tentative agreement that could give President Donald Trump a trade win for his farm constituency and could protect Japan against steep auto tariffs that the administration is threatening to impose on imported vehicles.

Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe outlined the agreement in principle on agriculture, industrial tariffs and digital trade Sunday during the G-7 summit in France. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the agreement, if finalized, would open Japanese markets to an additional $7 billion in U.S. products.

What lawmakers can do about gun violence, and helping black families save ancestral lands
CQ on Congress, Episode 165

Public pressure on lawmakers is growing across the country to reduce gun violence, but Congress may only be able to pass incremental legislation, explains CQ Roll Call’s legal affairs writer Todd Ruger.

In the second segment of this podcast, we explore how Congress and a South Carolina center are trying to address the loss of land and wealth, particularly among African Americans, in what is commonly referred to as Heirs Property. Josh Walden of the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation in South Carolina discusses how thousands of acres of land, from the south to Appalachia, may be in dispute because of the lack of legal records.

Democrats say support for new NAFTA depends on Trump
Trump administration will have to offer House Democrats some changes

Congressional action on the United States-Mexico-Canada trade pact to replace the NAFTA agreement will depend on whether the Trump administration offers House Democrats changes that will achieve “substantial and real” improvements to the agreement, a trade working group said in a report to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“It is time for the administration to present its proposals and to show its commitment to passing the new NAFTA and delivering on its own promises,” the group of Democrats wrote.

‘Enter hemp with extreme caution,’ Kentucky farmer tells Senate panel
Agriculture Committee hears about the lows induced by hemp production

Farmers facing low prices and mired in trade uncertainty see hemp as the next big cash crop, but a Kentucky veteran of six hemp harvests warned it’s a demanding plant to produce.

“Enter hemp with extreme caution,” Brian Furnish told the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday.

USDA seeks to narrow eligibility for food stamps
Proposal looks to tighten eligibility for people who receive noncash benefits

The Trump administration will push ahead with a proposal to tighten food stamp eligibility for people who receive certain noncash benefits from a federal welfare program, a move that could end aid for up to 3 million people.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the draft rule published in Tuesday’s Federal Register will end what he and congressional Republicans say is a loophole that allows people with gross incomes above 130 percent of the poverty level to become eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and potentially qualify for food stamps through the program.

USDA official says agencies can find new staff after they move to Kansas City
Research chief also disputes reports that USDA is burying climate science research

A top Agriculture Department research official told a Senate committee that two agencies slated for a contested move out of Washington can recover from an exodus of employees and denied media reports the department has hidden agency documents on climate change.

Scott Hutchins, deputy undersecretary for research, education and economics, said Thursday that many employees eligible to move to the Kansas City metropolitan area with either the Economic Research Service or National Institute of Food and Agriculture have notified USDA that they will stay in Washington. Employees who have agreed to move have until Sept. 30 to make the trek west, where the agencies will operate out of a temporary space until USDA finds a long-term landlord.

Envoy says Mexico ready for Congress’ questions on trade deal
Mexico is committed to enforcing labor and environmental protections

Mexican officials believe they have strong arguments to assure Congress that their country is committed to enforcing labor and environmental protections in the proposed replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexican Ambassador Martha Barcena Coqui said Thursday.

Mexico is willing to take on the role of answering lawmakers’ questions, but Barcena said at an event hosted by CQ Roll Call that the Trump administration has the ultimate responsibility for winning congressional approval for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Assessing the trade talks with China
CQ on Congress podcast, Episode 160

In this episode of CQ on Congress, former U.S. trade negotiator Wendy Cutler explains what each side of the U.S.-China trade talks is looking to gain. Then trade economist Christine McDaniel walks us through how some U.S. companies are coping with the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration. And CQ Roll Call's trade reporter Mark Bocchetti discusses the process that allows U.S. companies to seek exclusions from the tariffs.

House Democrats call for revival of meat labeling law
Country-of-origin labeling calls beef and pork products to show where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered

A meat labeling law repealed three years ago may be making a comeback as some lawmakers call for it to be added to the proposed trade pact designed to replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

The country-of-origin labeling requirement, known as COOL, called for labels on beef and pork products to show where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

U.S., China to restart trade talks; farmers, Huawei may gain
Trump said the pause on new tariffs is ‘for the time being‘

The U.S. will restart stalled trade talks with Beijing and delay imposing new tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese imports, President Donald Trump said Saturday.

“We will be continuing to negotiate. We’re going to work with China to where we left off to see if we can make a deal,” Trump said at a news conference in Osaka, Japan, where he and Chinese President Xi Jinping attended a meeting of G-20 leaders.