Which way will wind blow when new administration takes over?

There is a new year, a new president and a lot of questions that won’t be answered for some time as Barack Obama first turns his attention to the economy, national security and other pressing issues.

One question that was kicked around before and after the election is whether or not his administration will be ag friendly. It’s a topic that has been debated by a number of pundits whose articles and editorials have been emailed to the CAFA office.

On one hand, the emphasis on bio-fuels has the potential to be a major plus for alfalfa and other forages if promises are kept. Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, nominated for interior secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, nominated for agriculture secretary, are known for their strong support for renewable energy. Whether the country’s economic woes will allow enough funding to finally move toward energy independence is another question.

But, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus as to which way the new administration will tilt for agriculture as a whole. The articles and op-ed pieces we received ranged from highly optimistic to the other end of the spectrum. The one article that was extremely positive came from Illinois, Obama’s home state, so there may have been a bias.

Until recently we gave little thought to the new administration because, as we all know, much of what’s promised from the primaries to election day usually disappears after inauguration day.

What got our attention was a flurry of lawsuits that involve the Endangered Species Act and why it should be revised. In Alaska, for example, environmentalists delayed new oil drilling for a lengthy period of time by using the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit is a stalling tactic aimed at wearing down the oil companies by tying up the project in the courts.

In California, of course, the “endangered” Delta smelt is a prime example that there’s a compelling need for an overhaul of a good idea gone awry. At the core of the problem is a complaint by environmentalists that pumps near Tracy are destroying smelt. They sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2005 after the agency maintained Delta smelt weren’t at risk.

In 2007, however, a U.S. district judge ordered a reduction in the amount of water pumped out of the Delta and the State Water Project responded with a 25 percent to 30 percent cutback in 2008. In December, the Fish and Wildlife Service introduced extensive rules to protect Delta smelt, which will lead to larger cutbacks in water deliveries and impact 750,000 acres of farmland and some 25 million people in California.

Unfortunately, environmentalists aren’t done yet. In early December an environmental group filed suit to “retire” hundreds of thousands of acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland that they maintain are full of toxic substances. Yet another lawsuit was filed in early December to protect fish and “end wasteful and unreasonable” water diversions from the Delta.

Until loopholes are closed, lawsuits will continue and what are the odds the new administration will respond? If that doesn’t happen, it will likely take higher food prices and food shortages, plus water rationing to get the voting public to finally demand a sensible approach to protecting endangered species.

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