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Congress Passes Farm Bill

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate approved the conference report for the 2014 Farm Bill by a vote of 67 to 32, following swift passage of the bill from the House in late January. President Obama is scheduled to sign the bill Friday during a ceremony at Michigan State University. The final pen stroke will end the nearly three-year process to enact a new five-year Farm Bill.
“Today, in a strong bipartisan vote, the U.S. Senate came together to pass a comprehensive Farm Bill – legislation that will build on the historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, create new jobs and opportunities, and protect the most vulnerable Americans,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.
“This bill provides certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers, and contains a variety of commonsense reforms that my administration has consistently called for, including reforming and eliminating direct farm subsidies and providing assistance for farmers when they need it most.  It will continue reducing our deficits without gutting the vital assistance programs millions of hardworking Americans count on to help put food on the table for their families.  And it will support conservation of valuable lands, spur the development of renewable energy, and incentivize healthier nutrition for all Americans.   As with any compromise, the Farm Bill isn’t perfect – but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America’s food, but for our nation.”
Several biofuel, bioenergy and agricultural associations have spoken out in support of the Senate’s vote. Click here for more information on Energy Titles.
Changes Expected in Energy Committees
The Senate on Thursday approved Montana Sen. Max Baucus’s nomination to be ambassador to China. Baucus retirement is expected to help change the dynamic of the US Senate race in that state this fall, as the Democratic governor can now appoint a US Senator, perhaps Democratic Lt. Gov. John Walsh, who will then run as an incumbent this fall for a seat that was expected to turn Republican.
Baucus’s confirmation may also result in revolving door chairmanship changes, with Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon taking over Baucus’s seat as Chairman of the Finance Committee, and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana assuming the Chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  This would be seen as an advantage for Landrieu, who is also facing a difficult re-election run this November.
Meanwhile, two senior House Democrats said that they want to succeed Henry Waxman as the top Democrat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, setting up an intraparty battle to defend policies from carbon reduction and climate change to Obamacare.
Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) both announced plans to seek the chairmanship. And former Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), now 87, hasn’t ruled out a run at getting back the chairmanship he held for more than 25 years.
The committee has the broadest portfolio in Congress, ranging from health care and telecommunications to energy and environment. The top Democrat on the panel will be responsible for defending the Affordable Care Act if Republicans retain control of the House next year, along with President Barack Obama’s climate change strategy.
Pallone, the No. 3 Democrat on the committee behind Waxman and Dingell, has developed bipartisan relationships while serving as a party messaging master on the House floor. Eshoo is the No. 5 Democrat, but she has a strong ally in Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.  According to Politico, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) who had helped Dingell battle to keep the post in 2008, said he didn’t think he would try for the slot. “I think I would have been called by now if he was going to do it,” Doyle said.
Pallone, who is now the top Democrat, opposite Chairman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) on the Health Subcommittee, began reaching out to fellow Democrats shortly after Waxman announced he is retiring after this term.
Eshoo, like Waxman, has close ties to Pelosi, a fellow Californian, and may have her support. Eshoo said she told Pelosi of her plans during halftime of Sunday night’s Super Bowl game “and she was very excited for me.”  She represents a Silicon Valley region, which has both tech and biotech interests.
State of the Union: All of the Above Energy Policy
President Obama highlighted natural gas and other “fuels of the future” in his State of the Union address last week, and pledged to set new efficiency standards for trucks and “cut red tape” to help businesses build factories that use natural gas.
Businesses plan to invest about $100 billion in such factories, Obama said, challenging Congress to help by “putting people to work” building natural gas fueling stations, shifting vehicles away from foreign oil.
He called for an end to the $4 billion a year in tax breaks for “fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so we can invest in more fuels of the future that do.” Obama said his administration will work with industry to encourage job growth while protecting air, water and communities.
The president called climate change a fact, and touted carbon pollution reduction in the US over the past eight years, which he said was greater than any other nation. But he said Congress and the country should “act with more urgency,” citing the droughts in the West and coastal communities dealing with floods.
The official Republican response from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. Called for lower energy costs for consumers.  Sen. Mike Lee, providing a response sponsored by the Tea Party, said the President was blocking thousands of middle-class jobs in the energy industry as a favor to partisan donors and radical environmental activists.”