Ranging from immigration to water bills to recent complaints of the Environmental Protection Agency releasing certain producer information, there’s been no shortage of agricultural activity taking place in Washington recently.
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., a Yuma-native who represents the state’s 4th Congressional District, took a few moments this week to discuss some of what’s going on in the nation’s capital that will impact agriculture — an industry he was born into.
Below are portions of that conversation:
Q: A lot of vegetable growers and dairymen in Colorado and across the U.S. have had difficulty finding local workers, have had trouble navigating the federal government’s system to hire migrant workers, and have been in support of reforming federal immigration laws. From an agricultural perspective, what do you like and what don’t you like about the Senate’s immigration bill that’s been put forward?
A: First of all, it’s a good first step.
Also, the House will be releasing its own version. They have a bipartisan working group in the House as well. That will be released shortly.
What I like about the Senate bill is that it addresses both the guest worker program, as well as a fix to more security. Those are good things.
What I don’t like about it, and I think the House will address this issue, you have the Registered Provisional Immigrant Status, and the Lawful Permanent Residency program, and the security provisions in those are very good, but it’s five years into it before you do the check on actual border security, to see whether or not it’s working.
I think in order to get support in the House, the timing may need to be flipped around a little bit.
The details, the programs, the language itself may be sufficient, but I think there are timing issues that are going to have to be worked out between the House and the Senate.
That actually gives me a great deal of confidence, because if it’s just that timing issue, I think that can be worked out.
And I think the House will work that out, and I think we can come forward with a good bill, something that will actually address immigration reform in a way that isn’t piece meal.
Q: Many in the Colorado ag community have stressed the need for more water storage. You recently put forward a bill, aimed at speeding up the federal permitting process on new water-supply projects that are endorsed or supported by the government in those states. How is that effort coming along?
A: We’re close to getting it introduced. We want to get our draft around, showing it to the water-storage community to provide us their feedback. I’ve talked to the House Committee on Natural Resources about it. They want to look and focus on water storage as well.
Water storage is absolutely critical. I think it’s a key part of a long-term future for Colorado agriculture, and municipal and industrial growth.
It’s not the only key.
We also have to work on conservation.
Another critical leg is how do we partner public and private sectors to make these projects a reality?
Once we get feedback on the water-project bill, it could be just a matter of weeks before we introduce it.
A lot of the conversations are on the timing (of how quickly the federal government would have to approve or not approve a water project after it’s endorsed by the state’s government). Do we have a nine-month period, a six-month period?
You don’t want to be arbitrary about the timing, where people just say, ‘oh it’s been long enough, you should have made a decision.’
The fact that we’re allowing the governor of a state, who may or may not be in favor of a project, to weigh in, shows there’s no political angle to this bill. Maybe the governor won’t want weigh in on a project, and, in that case, this bill won’t be triggered.
Q: Since last year, you’ve talked about a bill that would allow mutual ditch companies to maintain their nonprofit status as they bring in more revenue from recreation on their reservoirs or from oil and gas activity on their land — as long as they’re using those additional dollars for maintaining or improving their water infrastructure. How is that bill moving along?
A: We’re looking to introduce that soon as well.
We introduced that bill late last year, which is why it was a little tough to get it going forward at that time.
Mutual ditch irrigation companies, under federal law, violate their nonprofit status if they get a certain amount of revenue. The last thing we want is for them to be victims of their own success, just because they have a water project in a certain location. We want to say to them that you’re not going to violate your nonprofit status, as long as you use that additional revenue for the maintenance and upkeep of the ditch, or lining it.
Feedback has been good.
In fact we were just approached again by the group that’s working on it here, about getting it introduced, so we’ll be getting that done soon.
Jim Matheson, a Democratic member of Congress from Utah, will be supporting this bill with me, so it will have bipartisan support.
Q: What’s the latest on the farm bill?
A: It sounds like Committee Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas will hold a markup in mid May.
To me, the biggest question on how the farm bill is going to move forward comes on the Senate side, were Pat Roberts, from a corn- and wheat-belt region, is being replaced on committee by Thad Cochran, from a rice and cotton region, because a lot of the conflict so far has come between those two different regions.
The House bill will look the same as it did in committee, but who knows with the Senate.
Now, I’m still frustrated with lack of leadership and timing. It’s a big concern of mine. We’re starting to hear from some farmers who haven’t received their SURE payments.
We’ve go to get something to the floor.
Q: What other concerns are you hearing from your constituents?
A: I think there’s more and more uncertainty over progams like SURE and NAP, the drought payments, sequester impacts, feet dragging. Those are the ongoing things.
More recently, the Environmental Protection Agency turning over rancher information to environmental-interest groups really got a lot of phone calls to the office.
People were pretty upset about that.
It goes to a larger concern; the government says it won’t release certain information, and then all of the sudden it gets released.
We need to find out what happened there, and make sure it won’t happen again.❖