Election Season is a Good Time to Remind Congress of Unfinished Business

Published on Tue, 04/12/2016 - 1:09pm

By: Tracy Brunner, NCBA President

As spring moves in, it signifies a busy time across the country. The grass is finally turning green, calves are hitting the ground, and with any luck, Congress will take up a few critical issues that we need addressed.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is top of mind. TPP has the potential to be a game-changing opportunity for our industry, yet due to the presidential election and the political climate in D.C., whether we actually see a vote on TPP this year is up in the air. Regardless, our industry cannot afford to be a bargaining chip or campaign propaganda. For years, we have worked to break down the high tariff barriers U.S. beef faces in the Japanese market.

While Asia and the other Pacific Rim countries are not to be ignored, for us, leveling the playing field in Japan is critical. In 2015, Australia concluded a bi-lateral trade agreement with Japan, giving their producers a 10 point tax advantage over U.S. producers.

While U.S. beef currently faces a 38.5 percent tax on imports into Japan, Australian producers currently have a 27.5 percent tax rate under the Australia-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. That rate will continue to decrease over time, widening the disparity. This agreement alone has already cost U.S. producers over $100 million in lost sales to Japan.

EPA’s “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule continues to be a hot topic in D.C., as it is now finalized, although temporarily halted as the courts determine whether to overturn the rule. The rule is a significant expansion of federal jurisdiction beyond current practices and the limitations affirmed by the Supreme Court.

What is particularly problematic is the overly expansive definition of a tributary which, in combination with other provisions of the final rule, allows federal jurisdiction over many isolated waters. Erosional features are “exempt” unless they have a bed, bank, and ordinary high water mark. There are millions of these features across the country, and on your ranch, which would now be categorically jurisdictional.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is also in dire need of reform. Through habitual abuse of citizen lawsuit provisions like the Equal Access to Justice Act, radical environmental groups have hijacked the ESA and turned it against farmers and ranchers by overwhelming the Fish and Wildlife Service with new listing petitions, resulting in a backlog of decisions to be made and directing resources away from recovery and delisting efforts. This abuse has led to a species recovery rate of less than two percent.

The ESA is a broken system that needs addressing. It is a vicious cycle of abuse that drains resources from true recovery efforts. There needs to be clear recovery goals and a focus on delisting species when the best available science indicates the recovery goals have been met.

I encourage all cattle producers to take the time to visit with your elected officials about these issues. At the end of the day, members of Congress want to hear from you — their constituent. Go to the town halls, invite them to see your operation, and get involved.

Tracy Brunner is the NCBA President and 4th generation on his family operation located in Ramona, Kansas. He has served as president of his family corporation since its inception in 1988. Tracy manages the feedyard and the yearling grazing operation. He also oversees the cattle and grain marketing decisions, commodity risk management, customer relations, and financial reports. Tracy’s family also operates a seed stock enterprise raising bulls and replacement heifers for many ranchers throughout the U.S.