Association President/CEO Roger A. Isom represented agricultural interests on two important panels at the 2023 San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Governing Board Study Session. The two-day Study Session is held every year to allow the Governing Board to take a deeper dive into major issues facing the District. The issue for the first panel was the topic of “Continued Efforts to Partner with Valley Agriculture to Reduce Nut Harvest Emissions”. Isom kicked off the panel and focused on highlighting the existing incentive programs for “low dust harvesters”, as well as a need to expand the programs to include conditioners and “low dust conditioners”. Isom further highlighted the need for research to support these efforts, while emphasizing the importance of incentives as the key to any successful and meaningful replacement of this equipment, especially given current commodity pricing. Joining Isom on the Panel were representatives from the Almond Board of California and the USDA NRCS. On the second day, Association President/CEO Isom opened up the panel on the issue of “Zero-Emission Heavy Duty Vehicle and Equipment Infrastructure Challenges and Opportunities.” Isom focused on major issues with the lack of infrastructure for both electric and hydrogen fuel sources, as well as major cost implications. Isom commented that compliance dates need to be adjusted once we truly understand our infrastructure needs including how much, when and where the demand will be for either electricity or hydrogen. He also stated that two rules are impacting agriculture in this matter, including the new truck rules and the proposed forklift rule, and stated incentives were needed to assist agriculture on both of these regulations. Joining Isom on the panel were representatives from the California Air Resources Board, California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission, Go-BIZ and the California Transportation Commission.
Last week, representatives from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (District), the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 (US EPA) came together in Modesto to sign a historic proclamation lauding the successful efforts to reduce agricultural-related air quality emissions in the San Joaquin Valley. The proclamation stated, “that through the emissions reductions achieved by the District, CARB, and NRCS grant program partnerships, the agricultural industry has met their commitment to accelerate turnover of agricultural equipment in the San Joaquin Valley to cleaner equipment and achieved over 11 tons per day of NOx emission reductions in 2024”. According to the District, in order to meet the emission reduction commitment, through the Carl Moyer, FARMER, DERA, TAG, and EQIP incentive programs, the agricultural industry turned over and destroyed over 12,800 pieces of older agricultural equipment in the San Joaquin Valley, of which over 7,300 were the oldest Tier 0 agricultural equipment with no emissions controls.
“The agricultural sector in the San Joaquin Valley is an economic powerhouse for the state. Moving towards the cleanest available technology in this sector continues to be critical to improving the air in the Valley,” said Liane Randolph, Chair of the California Air Resources Board. “We all have a role to play in building a healthier, more sustainable California, and today’s event shows what we can achieve when we work together.”
“NRCS California is proud to have helped our farmers replace more than 6,000 old, polluting tractors since 2008, with an emission’s reduction equivalent of removing 1.5 million cars off California’s roads,” said NRCS California State Conservationist Carlos Suarez. “But we didn’t do this alone – a robust partnership of agriculture and governmental partners have teamed with us for more than a decade working together to make our air cleaner and healthier for Central Valley communities.”
“The District applauds the leadership of local and state legislators, as well as Valley farmers in recognizing the public health and climate benefits provided throughout California from clean air investments,” stated Samir Sheikh, Executive Director/Air Pollution Control Officer for the Valley Air District. “The San Joaquin Valley agricultural sector feeds the world and coordinated multi-agency efforts like this must continue to support farmers’ ongoing transition to sustainable and air-friendly practices.”
In a District press release, they commented “While the San Joaquin Valley has some of the most challenging fine particulate matter and ozone air quality issues in the nation, the Valley has a long history of collaboration with Valley agricultural stakeholders, partner agencies, state and federal legislators, and the California Governor. This collaboration has led to the accelerated turnover of older agricultural equipment to lower-emitting equipment through significant funding under the federal Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA), Targeted Airshed Grant (TAG) funding programs, and the state Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions (FARMER) Program. CARB, the District, and NRCS also partnered with the Valley agricultural industry for decades through the Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment Program (Carl Moyer Program), and the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The total public (District, CARB, NRCS, and U.S. EPA) and private investment in agricultural equipment in the San Joaquin Valley since 2015 has equated to over $1.6 billion, more than half of which was spent by farmers and others in the agricultural industry.”
On hand for the event was Association President/CEO Roger A. Isom. Isom commented “The Association spent a lot of time, effort and political capital over the past several years to make sure this day happened, and to stave off any type of mandatory replacement rule like the CARB Truck Rule that would have ultimately put farmers out of business.”
In a highly controversial move, the CPUC voted recently to end the NEM-A program for farms, food processors and other customers. If you are planning to implement a new solar system you have less than 90 days to get your application submitted to avail your project to the existing NEM-A rules.
As regularly reported on by AECA, after the main Net Billing Tariff (the new Net-Energy Metering program) program was finalized at the CPUC, they moved onto NEM Aggregation. AECA helped to create the NEM Aggregation program in the Legislature in 2012 with SB 594 (2021, Wolk) and has been working for months to keep the program available.
As noted in AECA comments, the Adopted Decision will now drastically limit, if not eliminate agricultural customers’ ability to install on-farm solar net-metering projects.
AECA aggressively advocated for the aggregation program to remain an effective tool for agricultural and food processing operations to produce onsite renewable energy.
AECA submitted comments, had meetings with the CPUC commissioners, the CA Dept of Food and Agriculture, Governor Newsom’s Cabinet staff and encouraged legislators to call on the CPUC to revise the decision. ACEA recently led efforts resulting in 19 legislators signing a letter to the CPUC and Governor. This followed a joint ag letter signed by major agricultural organizations in the state.
Despite these efforts the CPUC sided with PG&E, SCE and other utilities who have long sought to end the NEM-A program
ACT NOW BEFORE THE PROGRAM CHANGES! Reach out to your local farm solar providers and get your utility applications in by mid-February.
Late last year, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted a new distributed rooftop solar pricing system, greatly reducing customer financial incentives. The new Net Billing Tariff (formerly Net Energy Metering) addressed the inequalities that benefited customers with solar at the expense of those who didn’t have it.
Now the regulator is considering other changes to NEM programs. Unfortunately, those changes are designed by self-serving utilities to make it impossible for apartment buildings, renters, schools, and farmers to continue adopting solar energy.
Customers are currently allowed to install one solar project which serves multiple tenants, buildings, or irrigation pumps on the same property. All of these customers have one thing in common — multiple loads and meters at the same location. The proposed changes pushed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and their Southern California monopoly brethren will eviscerate the ability of these customers to continue adopting on-site renewable energy.
Renewable energy systems being installed on the state’s farms are the cornerstone of the state’s climate smart agricultural practices championed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The systems not only help California achieve renewable energy goals, but also enable important farm water conservation efforts, such as the state’s highly successful State Water Efficiency Enhancement Program program.
Climate smart farming and more sustainable food systems can’t happen if farms are precluded from installing distributed renewable energy systems, especially as they seek to electrify more operations and equipment on their farms.
PG&E’s rates have already risen by 11.2% so far this year and will go far higher in the coming months as the CPUC ponders another multibillion-dollar rate increase over the next four years. Rates are also rising far faster than inflation in Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric territories. As utility rates increase, the investor-owned utilities are especially desperate to limit less expensive renewable options for their customers.
Both virtual net energy metering and net energy metering aggregation programs were legislatively created (SB 594, Wolk 2012) to provide multimetered customers with the same opportunities to install efficient renewable energy systems on their farms, schools, and other property. Until the NEM-A program was enacted, farms were largely unable to install solar systems. It simply made no sense to install and interconnect multiple small and inefficient systems behind every separately metered irrigation pump on the farm. Since NEM-A was created, rural agricultural renewable energy projects have flourished.
The CPUC addressed a major inequity issue when it cut payments for distributed net energy metering customers last December. Under the proposed decision, the agency would now create an even larger inequity, leaving millions of renters and thousands of farms out in the cold by precluding their ability to install renewable energy and fully utilize it on-site. That is why several dozen bipartisan legislators have weighed in with the CPUC in support of continuing the programs.
It makes zero sense. Maybe for once the CPUC can come down on the side of customers and the planet, not greedy self-serving monopoly utilities.
Roger Isom is the CEO of the Western Agricultural Processors Association, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, and president of the Agricultural Energy Consumers Association.
Read more at: https://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/article281901538.html#storylink=cpy
This past week Governor Gavin Newsom took action to accelerate the Sites Reservoir project, utilizing new tools from the infrastructure streamlining package to build more faster. This project, if ultimately approved, would capture water during wet seasons and store it for use during drier seasons – holding up to 1.5 million acre-feet of water. The project has received a total of $46.75 million in early funding from the state. In all, Sites is eligible for $875.4 million of Proposition 1 funding. Total project cost is estimated at $4 billion.
HOW IT WORKS:
- SB 149 allows the Governor to certify qualifying infrastructure projects for judicial streamlining under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
- Courts must decide CEQA challenges to certified projects within 270 days to the extent feasible – saving months or even years of litigation delays after a project has already passed environmental review, while still allowing legal challenges to be heard.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT:
- Just last week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Sites Project Authority finalized the Environmental Impact Review and Environmental Impact Statement for the project.
- The project will help California maintain a resilient water supply in the face of climate change, weather extremes, and water scarcity.
- Sites Reservoir is critical to California’s Water Supply Strategy and meeting the state’s goal of expanding above and below ground water storage capacity by 4 million acre feet.
The Association led a coalition joined by 12 other agricultural organizations from California opposing and submitting comments to Federal OSHA on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the Worker Walkaround Representative Designation Process. This proposal would allow union representatives to accompany OSHA inspectors on a “walkaround inspection” of non-unionized property. OSHA suggests these union representatives must be allowed access to the farm or ranch when they are reasonably necessary to aid in the inspection process. The same access would be available for any other employee’s designee such as trial lawyers or other activists. The coalition expressed serious concerns on allowing people with no expertise or knowledge of safety or industrial hygiene to participate in such an inspection. Current regulations allow for outside representation but specify that the representative must have specific safety knowledge such as a safety engineer or industrial hygienist. The coalition stated the current regulations and process already provide for an adequate and appropriate protection of worker safety.
In a year that may go down as the worst insect year across the board, Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair Esmeralda Soria toured cotton fields ravaged by lygus and visited a cotton gin and almond huller to see the impacts of having less commodity to run through the plants and consequently a substantial hit on employment here in her District and throughout the Valley. She first visited Pacific Ginning Company and toured the cotton gin. She met with Manager Matt Toste, current Chairman of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, and discussed the impacts to this year’s crop. As a result of the heavy rains, there was a heavy lygus presence early in the season. Due to inaction by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR), the crop has been devastated by season long presence and destruction of the pest. This resulted in some fields being completely disced under or limited to one or one and a half bales of cotton production compared to the normal 3 bales to acre yields that California growers are accustomed to. CDPR refused to register Transform, a very effective insecticide to control lygus, which is registered and used in every other cotton growing state.
Following the gin tour, the Assemblywoman walked in a cotton field she thought had been picked due to the substantial lack of cotton bolls, but had not yet been harvested.
Then the group headed to Superior Almond Hulling to tour the almond huller. There, after meeting with Manager Mayra Sanchez and Superintendent Richard Espinosa, she learned that their season will be more than a month shorter than normal due to the substantial navel orangeworm damage. This means their 100 plus employees will lose more than a month’s wages due to the shorter season. In a year where the state is experiencing major infestations of fruit flies, a new almond beetle, cottonseed bug, and many other invasive pests, it was important that the Assembly Ag Committee Chairwoman see firsthand the effect these state policies can have, especially as our tool box to combat these pests gets lighter and lighter.
Last week the Association was honored and recognized by JCS Marketing with the Industry’s Titan Award, recognizing the Association for its many achievements in the past several years as the Association came into existence. Accepting the award on behalf of the Association was President/CEO Roger Isom, who commented “I accept this award on behalf of the Association, its staff, its Board Members and every one of our members who have contributed to helping us achieve these many objectives.” The award was delivered at the “My Ag Nite” event featuring Fox News Host Jesse Watters and put on by JCS Marketing, publisher of the West Coast Nut Grower Guide and many other publications. “My Ag Nite” was the brainchild of JCS Marketing Owner, Jason Scott. Joining Isom at this prestigious event was Assistant Vice President Priscilla Rodriguez and Safety and Food Safety Specialists Rita Ruiz and Esmeralda Miranda.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law SB 616, which expands California’s existing paid sick leave law – the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014. The new law’s modifications have widespread implications because they will apply to virtually all employees who work in California for 30 days or more in a year. Specifically, the new law will modify existing paid sick leave law by:
- Increasing the annual amount of PSL an employee is entitled to under either the frontload or accrual method from 24 hours or three days to 40 hours or five days;
- For employers who utilize an accrual model other than one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, increasing the number of PSL hours accrued to 40 hours by their 200thday of employment, in addition to accruing at least 24 hours of PSL by their 120thday of employment;
- Increasing the number of days of carried over PSL an employee can use each year from 24 hours or three days to 40 hours or five days;
- For employers who offer paid leave, increasing the number of days of paid leave an employee is eligible to receive from 24 hours or three days within nine months of employment to 40 hours or five days within six months;
- Increasing the cap on an employee’s accrual of PSL from 48 hours or six days to 80 hours or 10 days;
- Extending certain procedural and anti-retaliation provisions of existing law to employees who are covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement that provides for different paid sick leave obligations; and
- Preempting any local cities’ PSL ordinances with less generous leave requirements to establish the state-wide minimums described above.
These new requirements go into effect on January 1, 2024.
This past week the Association testified before the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to oppose ongoing fee increases for water quality regulations. Water Quality Fees went up across the board, including the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) and Waste Discharge Requirement (WDR) fees. Association President/CEO Roger A. Isom testified at the hearing and focused on the WDR fees, which had one of the largest increases at 8.5%, which follows a 65% increase in the previous 5 years. Isom stated “this is not sustainable. It must stop now! While we recognize that regulating water quality is expensive and necessary, it does not justify these fee increases. The WDR fees are so out of line, they are 10 to 15 times all other regulatory fees combined! How do you explain that?” The SWRCB has admitted their fees are high, but put the blame on the State legislature, stating the legislature made the agency 100% fee based. At the hearing the SWRCB admitted 40% of the fee went to programs that were not ag discharge related. Isom responded “the problems are twofold. Yes, the State’s General Fund should pick up the statewide portion of the costs and not put those on ag stakeholders, but the Board needs to review the staff and the efficiencies of their work. We are going to pursue every angle we can on this issue and have already initiated discussions with the legislature.“ Other commenters echoed Isom’s comments including Bruce Houdesheldt, from the Sacramento Valley Water Quality Coalition.