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NCGA not resting

DANIEL LOOKER 02/26/2014 @ 5:42pm Business Editor

Members of the National Corn Growers Association took just a minute or two to bask in the recent passage of a farm bill Wednesday at the Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas. Then they looked forward to big challenges for ethanol, spending on locks and dams, and other issues looming in the nation's capital.

The group's top lobbyist, Jon Doggett, drew applause just mentioning that a farm bill has passed at last.

"It's a good bill. If you take a look at the bill, you will see NCGA policy all over it," he said during his update on Washington politics.

NCGA was a backer of the bill's new revenue-based safety net called Agriculture Risk Coverage, although the final form involved compromise that ties ARC to a farm's historical base acres, not planted acres.

The group is now working with other ag interests to defend ethanol. The EPA has proposed cutting 2014 biofuel blending by about 3 billion gallons from the level set by the 2007 energy law, and thousands of farmers have submitted comments urging the agency to reverse its decision. Doggett said no one knows when the EPA will release its final rule. "It will be summerish," he said.

The way EPA runs the law's renewable fuel standard (RFS) isn't the only potential danger for corn-based ethanol and other biofuels.

Doggett said an oil industry lobbyist claims that petroleum interests already have support for a complete repeal of the RFS from 200 members of the House of Representatives. To pass that legislation would require a 218-vote majority. Doggett said he doesn't doubt that the oil industry has 200 supporters of RFS repeal.

"They're willing to spend tens of millions of dollars to make sure they get the other 18. I think we have to be very worried about that," Doggett said.

In contrast, some 30 members of the House from both parties have written the EPA opposing its RFS reduction. The effort was led by Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Cheri Bustos (D-IL).

"We have 30 members, that's a grave concern," said Doggett.

This fall's election is likely to keep Congress from acting on many issues. If expired tax credits aren't renewed soon, Congress isn't likely to take them up until a lame-duck session after the election, he said.

Both the House and Senate have already passed Water Resources Development Act legislation to authorize repairs on locks and dams on the nation's rivers, but they haven't agreed on a final version in conference committee, Doggett said. Some of the WRDA supporters in Congress face primary challenges, and the law may not be finished until this summer.

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