News Break – October 5, 2011 – Fracking, Biofuels, China Currency, Farm Bill

PA Governor supports tougher shale drilling regulations

Columbus Dispatch

Energy companies that drill into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale for natural gas would have to pay an impact fee and would face tougher sanctions for violations under a plan Gov. Tom Corbett endorsed yesterday.

The announcement is part of an increasingly tougher stance the state has taken in recent months in response to its natural gas boom, in which more than 3,800 horizontal wells have been drilled and hydraulically fractured, or “fracked” in recent years. In April, Corbett ordered a halt to the dumping of brine, a salty, toxic wastewater from wells, into that state’s streams.

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Study says biofuels costly, their impact questionable

Des Moines Register

Next-generation biofuels are so expensive and difficult to make that the nation is unlikely to meet the government’s usage mandates, according to the National Research Council.

A congressionally requested study by the research council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, also warns the feedstocks needed to produce the advanced biofuels could increase food prices by competing with food crops for land,  a key criticism of the corn ethanol the next-generation biofuels are supposed to replace. Producing the future biofuels also could have unintended environmental consequences in some areas because of the fertilizer and water requirements and may not do as much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as the government has estimated, the study found.

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Vilsack says USDA food safety programs likely to be cut

Bloomberg

Food-safety programs may be less vulnerable to cuts than other areas of U.S. Department of Agriculture spending because of the importance placed on the nutrition supply, Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

“I’m least concerned about the food-safety part than any other part,” Vilsack said today at a food-policy conference in Washington. Nutrition assistance for poor families may be more vulnerable, even as it helps reduce poverty, he said.

Funding for programs that protect the nation’s food supply are being pressured by congressional spending cuts. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service budget would be reduced by 3.4 percent to $972.7 million in the year beginning Oct. 1 under the appropriations bill the House of Representatives passed in June, while the Senate’s plan would leave funding unchanged.

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Reid sets stage for next vote on China currency bill

The Hill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed a cloture motion on Tuesday night to end debate on the pending Chinese currency bill.

The legislation, designed to pressure the Chinese government to stop undervaluing its currency, already cleared one important hurdle on Monday night, advancing to the first stage of debate by a vote of 79-19. That strong show of support indicates the bill could very well clear the upper chamber by week’s end.

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Thune touts bipartisan Farm Bill proposal

Indiana Prairie Farmer

The Aggregate Risk and Revenue Management program, or ARRM Farm Bill proposal has been introduced by a bipartisan group of farm state Senators including Senator John Thune, R-S.D. So far it’s getting positive initial reaction among the agricultural community.

Thune says it builds on the Average Crop Revenue Election and the crop insurance program to provide a safety net in crop years where prices are low. However, he says it’s less complicated and less restrictive than either ACRE or SURE.

“It does away with direct payments, it does away with counter-cyclical payments, and it sort of reforms the ACRE program and acts as a compliment to crop insurance,” Thune said. “So for example if a farmer takes a crop insurance program, this would allow them to fill the gap between what crop insurance covers and what their 90% of revenue would be in any given year.”

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