The Trump Factor: The President’s First Year in Office

Source: By Chris Clayton, DTN/Progressive Farmer • Posted: Thursday, January 4, 2018

OMAHA (DTN) — Each year, DTN publishes our choices for the top 10 ag news stories of the year, as selected by DTN analysts, editors and reporters. In the No. 5 spot is the impact of President Donald Trump on ag in his first year in office.

The first year of Donald Trump’s presidency was anything but boring, even when it came to agriculture.

Much like the country band Big & Rich, President Trump rode into Washington, D.C., “and this town ain’t never gonna be the same.”

President Trump and his team started the year freezing regulations the outgoing Obama Administration sought to squeeze in as they walked out the door. The year ended with the president finally scoring his biggest legislative victory, a $1.46 trillion tax cut that could likely reshape how farmers structure their businesses in the future.

There was some angst at first, especially when it came to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia, wasn’t nominated to take over as Agriculture secretary until just one day before Trump’s inauguration. Perdue was finally confirmed in late April.

Getting people into Senate-confirmed jobs at USDA remained a slog all year. Deputy Secretary Steve Censky wasn’t nominated until mid-July and confirmed in October. Ted McKinney took over a new position as undersecretary for trade at the department at the same time. Greg Ibach joined them shortly after as undersecretary for regulation and marketing, but Bill Northey, Iowa’s Agriculture secretary, got caught up in a Senate battle over ethanol and his nomination for undersecretary for farm production and conservation now likely won’t receive a Senate vote until 2018.

At EPA, Administrator Scott Pruitt wasted little time beginning the regulatory withdrawal process for the controversial Clean Water Act rule, defining waters of the U.S. The rule was viewed as a bane to rural America, and the president had stumped against WOTUS on the campaign trail.

EPA proposed to redefine waters of the U.S. last July. Pruitt said earlier this month in Iowa that the earlier rule was so broad that dry creek beds, ephemeral streams and drainage ditches could be regulated. He talked about a conversation with an Army Corps of Engineers staffer who pointed to a drainage ditch and called it a water of the U.S.

“That shows you how far we have come,” Pruitt told Iowans. “There’s no way Congress intended, in the early 1970s, to include those types of water bodies, if you want to call them that, as waters of the United States.”

EPA will provide a substitute rule “that is consistent with the text” of the Clean Water Act. The new definition is going to come in 2018, he said. Pruitt said the new rule will refocus on navigable waters.

Pruitt also moved to reverse a planned ban of the pesticide chlorpyrifos — sold as Lorsban. EPA denied a petition by environmental groups to ban the pesticide, citing that farmers need the product. “By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making rather than predetermined results,” Pruitt said at the time.

Keeping in the EPA’s bailiwick, Trump also moved to withdraw the rule for the Clean Power Plan and the Obama Administration’s work to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Flaming liberals and drawing conservative praise, the president also dramatically announced in June that the U.S. would pull out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The president said the accord would harm the U.S. economy while helping other countries continue to burn higher volumes of fossil fuels. Trump said he is intent on renegotiating, but he was also ambivalent about the outcome.

“If we can, that’s great, and if we can’t, that’s fine,” Trump said.

The Trump White House sought to defy the norms by bringing in industry attorneys and lobbyists to oversee key regulatory positions. Congress largely went along with Trump’s nominees until it came to Sam Clovis, a former campaign advisor who the president nominated to be chief scientist. Clovis didn’t have a science background, but the administration, including Perdue, defended his nomination. Clovis had to withdraw, however, after his name was tied to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

USDA took a while to get onto the deregulatory bandwagon, but USDA began its own restructuring program that included eliminating an undersecretary for Rural Development. USDA also split up the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration.

USDA also moved to withdrew a pair of livestock marketing rules in October. The department withdrew an interim final rule that would have made it easier for livestock producers to sue under the Packers & Stockyards Act. Earlier this month, the Organization for Competitive Markets and a few independent farmers from Alabama and Nebraska filed a lawsuit opposing USDA’s rule reversal.

“The Trump Administration has eliminated rules designed to level the playing field for family farms and has instead given large multinational corporations the upper hand,” said Joe Maxwell, executive director of the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM). “In doing so, Secretary of Agriculture Perdue and the Administration have thrown America’s farmers to the wolves, telling them that their family businesses don’t matter. We called on the President to reverse Secretary Perdue’s actions, and he has failed to right this wrong, so we are seeking justice through the courts.”

Earlier this month, USDA also began to rescind a rule setting standards for organic livestock and poultry handling practices. Another late filing under the Obama White House, the proposal had received resistance from the National Pork Producers Council, but the Organic Trade Association was disappointed in USDA’s action.

Another action expected to affect rural America is that the Federal Communications Commission repealed a 2015 rule requiring internet service providers to treat all internet traffic equally. Known as “net neutrality,” the FCC voted to overturn the rule earlier this month over the complaints of web content providers such as Google and Netflix.