The Agricultural Retailers Association’s (ARA) Board of Directors held their annual winter meeting last week in Washington, DC, to review and discuss critical federal policies impacting their industry. ARA board members visited with members of Congress and Obama administration officials from various departments and agencies to highlight policy issues of interest and current economic and regulatory challenges facing the nation’s agricultural retailers and distributors.
“We are in the first months of a Congress that has 69 new congressional members and hundreds of new policy officials and regulators in the Obama administration,” said Jack Eberspacher, ARA president and CEO. “Our nation is at a crossroads on key policies related to transportation, chemical security, climate change, taxes, and energy. The significant political changes in Washington, DC make it more important than ever for ARA members to educate their lawmakers and regulatory officials on the essential role they play in maintaining American agriculture as the world’s leader in food, feed, fiber, and biofuel production.”
Some of the key sessions included:
- Charles Hochman of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reviewed existing testing and inspection requirements for anhydrous ammonia nurse tanks missing an American Society of Mechanicals Engineers Code (ASME) data plates, and he discussed the possibility of future rule-making which would require testing on all nurse tanks. ARA is advocating for self-certification to be a part of any DOT mandatory program so retailers can train their staff to do the nurse tank testing.
- Michael Eastman, executive director of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, provided an overview of key labor policy changes being considered by Congress, including the so-called “Employee Free Choice Act” or “Card Check” bill which would take away an employee’s right to a federally supervised private ballot when deciding whether or not to join a union. Other discussion items included the importance of maintaining the current hours of service agricultural exemption, energy, and climate change legislation.
- U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) provided a frank discussion on the serious economic challenges facing the nation. Roberts worked closely with ARA to include the “Agricultural Chemicals Security Credit” in the 2008 Farm Bill, which will provide a tax credit to agricultural retailers and distributors that improve security at their fertilizer and pesticide storage facilities.
- House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) discussed why he opposed the recently enacted economic stimulus bill, including concerns with the administration’s proposal to further cut farm program payments. With the industry facing volatile crop input prices, cuts in farm programs would lead to greater economic uncertainty in the agricultural industry.
- Troy Swackhammer with EPA’s Office of Emergency Management discussed proposed modifications to Spill, Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) rules.
- Sue Armstrong, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s acting director for Infrastructure Security Compliance Division, provided an update on the agency’s Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards regulations and a general time-frame for final tiering letters to be issued to “high risk” facilities.
- Sherri Alston of DOT’s Federal Highway Administration discussed the challenges faced with financing and re-building the nation’s surface transportation systems.
In addition, ARA — in conjunction with the National Grain & Feed Association and the American Trucking Association’s Agricultural Food & Transporters Conference — held an agricultural transportation briefing session for members of Congress and their senior policy advisors. ARA board members Dan Weber of Ceres Solutions and Charlie Cott of MFA provided comments on behalf of ARA and the retail industry.
Visit www.aradc.org for more information on ARA’s 2009 policy priorities and issue papers.