NEWS & ISSUES

US EPA and Army Propose New WOTUS Rule

This past week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of the Army (the agencies) announced a proposed rule to re-establish the pre-2015 definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) which had been in place for decades, updated to reflect consideration of Supreme Court decisions. This action advances the agencies’ goal of establishing a durable definition of WOTUS that protects public health, the environment, and downstream communities while supporting economic opportunity, agriculture, and other industries that depend on clean water. This proposed rule would support a stable implementation of “waters of the United States” while the agencies continue to consult with states, Tribes, local governments, and a broad array of stakeholders in both the implementation of WOTUS and future regulatory actions.

According to EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, “Through our engagement with stakeholders across the country, we’ve heard overwhelming calls for a durable definition of WOTUS that protects the environment and that is grounded in the experience of those who steward our waters. Today’s action advances our process toward a stronger rule that achieves our shared priorities.” EPA claims that recent court decisions have reinforced the need for a stable and certain definition of WOTUS. The U.S. District Courts for both Arizona and New Mexico have vacated the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. Considering the court actions, the agencies have been implementing the pre-2015 regulatory regime nationwide since early September 2021.

EPA claims that the proposed rule would solidify the rules of the road for a stable implementation of “waters of the United States” while the agencies continue to consult with stakeholders to refine the definition of WOTUS in both implementation and future regulatory actions. EPA further states the proposed rule would maintain the longstanding exclusions of the pre-2015 regulations as well as the exemptions and exclusions in the Clean Water Act on which the agricultural community has come to rely. The agencies are taking comment on this proposed rule for 60 days beginning on the date it is published in the Federal Register. The Association is currently reviewing the proposed rule in preparation of making comments.

NRCS Announces Three Local Appointments

The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in California has announced three new leadership selections in the state. Allen Curry has been selected as the Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations in Salinas covering the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and Stanislaus. Johnnie Siliznoff has been selected as the Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations in Fresno covering the counties of Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Tulare, and Tuolumne.  Jon Gustafson is the new permanent State Resource Conservationist (SRC).  Jon will work with staff and partners to provide leadership over our agency conservation planning and technical standards.  Their assignments will be effective November 21, 2021.

The Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations is responsible for working closely with employees, customers, and partners to deliver conservation programs and technical assistance, oversee staff, deliver training, and communicate agency plans, progress, and goals. In addition, they will be working with you and the District Conservationists (DC), to strengthen Local Work Groups and focus on your most critical conservation needs.  They will be working with partners and the DCs to implement the California Strategic Plan which focuses on people and making progress on six key natural resource concerns, including soil health, plant vigor that includes forest health, air quality, water quality, water quantity, and enhancing habitat.

Allen Curry is currently the DC in Indio, CA.  He has worked in several field and area leadership positions in Mississippi (MS) and CA including Soil Scientist, local Soil Conservationist, and as an area Resource Soil Scientist. Curry is a native of Port Gibson, MS, and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Plant and Soil Science from Alcorn State University.

Johnnie Siliznoff is currently the Acting DC in Fresno and previously the DC in Madera.  He has worked as the Central Valley Air Quality Specialist and has extensive experience serving in several technical and leadership positions in CA, the West National Technology Support Center, and National Headquarters. Johnnie is a graduate of California State University-Fresno with a degree in Agriculture Science and has a California Pest Control Advisors license.

Jon Gustafson is currently the State Rangeland Ecologist.  Jon started his career with NRCS in February 1998 as a rangeland management specialist at the field office in Petaluma California. Jon has spent most of his life in California, with his formative years in Orcutt and the past fifteen years in Davis. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Rangeland Resource Science from Humboldt State University

 

Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)

The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued on November 5, 2021 an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers (100 employees or more) from COVID-19.  Employers with 100 or more employees are now required to have a policy in place to either require all employees receive the COVID-19 vaccination or require weekly testing of all employees.  Employees must be vaccinated by January 4, 2022 or require unvaccinated employees to produce a negative test on at least a weekly basis. All employers must ensure their employees receive either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.  Employees who do not receive the vaccination must provide a verified negative test on a weekly basis and wear a face mask while in the workplace.  All covered employees are to be provided paid time to receive vaccinations, and if needed, sick leave to recover from side effects.  Compliance dates: December 5, 2021 for vaccination shots and masking for unvaccinated employees; January 4, 2022 for weekly testing.  Additional Fed/OSHA COVID materials can be found here.  As we previously reported, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board is to address this issue at its next board meeting.
Update: As soon as this ETS was issued, the following day on November 6th the Federal Appeals Court has issued an order to “stay” or temporarily stop the ETS from taking effect.  The Association will closely monitor this issue.

Association President/CEO Isom Testifies on West Coast Port Crisis


A special hearing was held yesterday by the Joint Assembly and Senate Select Committees on Ports and Goods Movement at their special hearing today in Sacramento on the West Coast Port Crisis.  Association President/CEO Roger Isom was asked by the Committee to speak to the impact of the crisis on agriculture.  Additional panelists included representatives from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California Association of Port Authorities, California Retailers Association, California State Transportation Authority, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, BNSF, Teamsters and the ILWU.  Isom’s comments focused on quantifying the costs and impact to agricultural exports, and outlined the direct problems faced by the industry included rolled bookings and the cancellation of Shipping Lines coming to Oakland to take exports.  Isom stated “taking empties back to Asia, bypassing Oakland and leaving ag exports on the docks is clearly a trade issue…agriculture and our inability to get our exports out is simply collateral damage.  We need solutions and we need them yesterday.”  While the state of California has little jurisdiction on issues affecting the crisis, they can help with some of the short-term solutions to alleviate the logjam, including finding off-port storage and other potential solutions.

Cal/OSHA Proposed 2nd Readoption – COVID-19 ETS

One day prior to the October 21st Standards Board meeting, Cal/OSHA published proposed language for the second readoption of the COVID-19 ETS.  If approved at the December Standards Board meeting, the readoption would provide for the proposed regulation to be in place from January 14, 2022 through April 14, 2022.   Proposed updates include:

  • Screening: During screening, both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees are to wear face coverings
  • Testing: If COVID-19 case occurs in the workplace, testing for all non-symptomatic close contacts, including those who are vaccinated.
  • Close contacts: currently employees who have had close contact but are fully vaccinated and remain asymptomatic do not need to be excluded from the workplace.  Under the proposed – these employees must now wear a face covering in the workplace for 14 days, social distance for 14 days, and get a COVID-19 test 3-5 days after the close contact.
  • Return to Work: The proposal revises if an employee returns to work before 14 days, they must wear a face covering and maintain social distancing until 14 days have passed.
  • Outbreaks: employers will be required to test all employees regardless of vaccination status.
  • Employer provided housing: housing ventilation must be maximized regardless of vaccination status.  All employee residents must be tested if there were 3 or more cases in their housing in a 14-day period; the quarantine policy to exclude asymptomatic vaccinated close contacts has been removed.
  • Employer provided vehicles: all employees must be provided and wear face coverings regardless of vaccination status.

WAPA will continue to monitor changes of the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 regulations in the workplace and provide comments at the December Standards Board meeting.

USDA Provides $1.8 Billion to Offset Market Fluctuations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today it is in the process of issuing $1.8 billion in payments to agricultural producers who enrolled in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs for the 2020 crop year.  These payments provide critical support to help mitigate fluctuations in either revenue or prices for certain crops. These two USDA safety-net programs help producers of certain crops build back better after facing the impacts of COVID-19 and other challenges.   In addition, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is encouraging producers to contact their local USDA Service Centers to make or change elections and to enroll for 2022 ARC or PLC, providing future protections against market fluctuations. The election and enrollment period opened on Oct. 18, 2021 and runs through March 15, 2022.  ARC and PLC payments for a given crop year are paid out the following fall to allow actual county yields and the Market Year Average prices to be finalized. This month, FSA processed payments to producers enrolled in 2020 ARC-County (ARC-CO), ARC-Individual (ARC-IC) and PLC for covered commodities that triggered for the crop year.   For ARC-CO, view the 2020 ARC-CO Benchmark Yields and Revenues online database for payment rates applicable to their county and each covered commodity.  For PLC, payments have triggered for barley, canola, chickpeas (large and small), dry peas, flaxseed, lentils, peanuts, seed cotton and wheat.  For ARC-IC, producers should contact their local FSA office for additional information pertaining to 2020 payment information, which relies on producer-specific yields for the crop and farm to determine benchmark yields and actual year yields when calculating revenues.

Governor Newsom Issues Executive Order Tackling Supply Chain Crisis

October 20, 2021

This morning, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-19-21, which aims to alleviate congestion at California’s shipping ports and tackle the state’s truck driver shortage.

The Order directs state agencies to:

  • Find state, federal and private land for short-term container storage.
  • Identify priority freight routes to be considered for a temporary exemption to current gross vehicle limits to allow for trucks to carry additional goods.
  • Create workforce training and education programs. This includes expediting AB 639’s (Cervantes, 2020) implementation.

Specifically, Governor Newsom’s Order states:

  1. “The Department of Transportation, in partnership with the California State Transportation Agency, within 30 days of this Order, shall, in collaboration with industry stakeholders, evaluate and identify priority freight routes to be considered for a temporary exemption to current gross vehicle weight limits.
  2. The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development shall identify non-state sites, including private, locally owned, and federally owned parcels, that could be available to address short-term storage needs to address the supply and distribution chain crisis.
  3. The Department of General Services shall complete its review of state-owned property in proximity to impacted ports that may be made available to address short-term storage needs to address the supply and distribution chain crisis by no later than December 15, 2021. To meet this deadline, all agencies under my direct executive authority shall support this effort by timely responding to all inquiries made by the Department of General Services.
  4. The Department of General Services shall collaborate with other state agencies to expedite leasing for the purpose of storing cargo containers on state-owned parcels identified pursuant to the Department of General Services’ review.
  5. The California Labor and Workforce Development Agency shall use existing resources to identify potential high road training partnerships to increase education, career technical education, job training, and workforce development opportunities for port workers and other workers across the supply chain. In identifying such opportunities, the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency shall first consider whether such partnerships can be funded through existing sources, such as the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
  6. By December 31, 2021, the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency shall take all necessary actions to constitute and announce the membership of the industry panel required by AB 639and codified at Government Code section 12893.1 (a). The Secretary of Labor shall convene the panel for its first meeting by March 1, 2022.
  7. The Department of Finance shall work with state agencies and departments to develop longer term proposals that support port operations and goods movement for consideration in the January 10 Governor’s Budget. Proposals may include port and transportation infrastructure improvements, electrification of the goods movement system from port to delivery, workforce development, and other actions to support goods movement.
  8. The Department of General Services, California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, California State Transportation Agency, Department of Transportation, and the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency shall use all existing legal and financial authority to expedite and prioritize these activities, including by giving them preference in the award of state funding, pursuant to my further direction. Agencies not under my direct executive authority are requested to do the same.
  9. The California State Transportation Agency, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, and the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency shall continue to execute actions in coordination with the Biden-Harris Administration Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force.”

State Releases Draft Guidelines for SGMA Implementation Grants

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has released the draft guidelines and Proposal Solicitation Package (PSP) for the Sustainable Groundwater Management (SGM) Grant Program’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) Implementation Funding.

DWR plans to deliver the funding in at least two funding solicitations:

  • Round 1 will provide over $150 million by spring 2022 to regional groundwater agencies in critically overdrafted basins for planning and implementation projects to help comply with SGMA. 
  • Future solicitation in 2022-2023 will provide over $204 million from various funding sources, including anticipated General Fund appropriations in Fiscal Years (FY) 2022/23 and 2023/24, remaining FY 2021/22 General Funds, remaining Proposition 68 Implementation funds, and any funds not awarded in Round 1, for planning and implementation projects to help comply with SGMA. If any funds are available after Round 2, future funding solicitations will be provided.

The public comment period began on October 13 and ends on November 29, 2021. Following the review and consideration of public comments, DWR will release the final 2021 Guidelines and PSP and solicit proposals for Round 1.  A public meeting will be held on November 16, 2021 at 2:00 PM. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, DWR will host the meeting as a Zoom webinar. The meeting will be recorded and a link to the recording will be posted on the website and e-mailed to subscribers of the SGM Grant Program’s email list (see subscription option below to subscribe) as soon as possible following the webinar. Please register for the public meeting at:

https://ca-water-gov.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcudu6rpzkqE9Z8XtCx17gINmFalDZI4cjI

For more information on document releases, new solicitations, upcoming workshops, and other grant-related announcements, subscribe to the SGM Grant Program mailing list.  If you have any questions, please submit to: SGWP@water.ca.gov.

James G. Boswell Foundation Creates Fund to Support Campus Farm

Thanks to a $100,000 philanthropic investment to the Ag One Foundation at Fresno State, the J. G. Boswell Foundation has established an endowment to support the University Agricultural Laboratory in memory of its longtime company farm manager, Dave Cosyns. Cosyns began a 45-year career with the company after he graduated from Fresno State in 1971, and managed its Kern County operations until his passing in 2016. He developed his love of farming at a young age in his family’s farming operation in Orange County and later in Tulare.   The endowment will help to support the Fresno State farm, officially known as the University Agricultural Laboratory. Its 20 units and 1,000 acres provides students, faculty, staff and community members endless opportunities for hands-on training and research in areas that reflect and benefit the nation’s leading agricultural region.  The Boswell company and foundation has contributed more than $1.5 million to Fresno State. Prior support also includes a $1.2 million endowment for an endowed chair position in the plant science department that is currently held by Dr. Sharon Benes.  The company is a frequent employer for Fresno State graduates, including Jim Razor, a vice president for processing and the current Ag One Foundation president.   “Dave Cosyns was the consummate farmer and an accomplished industry member,” said Razor. “He was known for his passion for farming, genuine character and vast knowledge of the agricultural industry. This fund is a tribute to his many contributions, which will help support and train new generations of agricultural leaders.”

Cotton Harvest Safety Training Begins

More than 70 workers attended the Cotton Harvest Safety Training Event at the Westside Field Station in Five Points this past week.  The event was co-hosted by Fresno County Farm Bureau, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association and The Zenith.  Hands-on and in-classroom training was provided by The Zenith.