May 12, 2023
By Allison Jenkins
In a farm bill year like 2023, members of the American Soybean Association’s government affairs team have their hands full, working relentlessly to ensure their growers’ priorities make it into this sweeping legislative package. After all, every one of the bill’s 12 titles affects the soybean industry in one way or another.
However, there are many other important farm policy issues that fall outside those wide parameters, and they cannot take a backseat while the focus is on the farm bill, says Christy Seyfert, ASA executive director of government affairs.
“When there is so much attention directed at the farm bill, it means we have to hammer that much harder on other policies not tied directly to it,” Seyfert says. “For our team, advocacy opportunities and activities are endless.”
The Environmental Protection Agency is at the center of several of the most pressing policy issues currently taking precedence for ASA, including the Renewable Fuel Standard, the Waters of the United States rule and Endangered Species Act compliance.
Weighing heavily on the minds of the ASA government affairs team is EPA’s proposed Renewable Fuel Standard volumes. In December, the agency announced blending mandates for the refining industry at a level that would essentially curtail growth in soy-based biofuels over the next three years.
When Congress created the RFS in 2005, the idea was to reduce emissions and reliance on imported oil by requiring transportation fuel in the U.S. to contain a minimum volume of biobased components. Starting this year, EPA has full authority to change the way the RFS is administered. And it did. Instead of issuing mandates annually, the agency opted to switch to a multiyear target.
The problem for the soybean industry is that the current RFS proposal calls for biobased diesel volumes below actual production. About 3.1 billion gallons of renewable diesel and biodiesel were produced in 2021 and about 3.2 billion gallons in 2022. Yet, EPA wants to set volumes at 2.82 billion in 2023, 2.89 billion in 2024 and 2.96 billion in 2025.
Alexa Combelic, ASA director of government affairs, says those volumes would stifle demand and industry growth.
“The proposed standard basically flatlines our industry over the next several years,” she said. “It doesn’t consider the significant investments that have been made in soybean crush facilities or the role of biobased diesel in lowering carbon emissions.”
Public comments closed Feb. 10, but the proposal is subject to revision until EPA releases a final rule June 14. That’s where ASA comes in. Combelic says she and her advocacy team of soy farmers are actively engaging with EPA, Congress and others, even working outside typical soybean strongholds like the Midwest to influence areas such as New England and California where biofuel demand is booming.
“Biodiesel and renewable diesel are the easiest fuels to drop into the hard-to-decarbonize sectors, such as heavy-duty truck hauling,” Combelic says. “Biofuels can be part of the climate solution right now.”
Soy oil makes up 50% of the feedstock for biodiesel and a little less for renewable diesel, so these products represent an important, growing market for soybean farmers. They also help provide employment and rural development opportunities. That’s the message ASA took directly to EPA Administrator Michael Regan in early March, Combelic says. She and her team have also met with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on the issue.
“Based on those high-level meetings, you can see just how much of a priority the RFS is to our organization and farmers,” Combelic says. “We’re trying to move the needle between that draft rule and the final rule in June. It’s very much a coalition effort with farmers and other industry stakeholders involved, and it’s critical that EPA gets it right.”
In February, ASA President Daryl Cates (IL) was quoted along with others in a news release on the administration's WOTUS rule from the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure and the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works.
Also of topmost concern for soybean farmers is the Waters of the United States rule, which is currently in litigation limbo. Ariel Wiegard, ASA director of government affairs, is leading the association’s advocacy on this issue.
“It’s something our farmers are very concerned about because it would impact their ability to manage their land the way they want,” Wiegard says. “This rulemaking can also impact infrastructure improvements, such as building roads, bridges and ports. It’s not only important to the farmer but also the larger farm economy and supply chain.”
EPA published its latest WOTUS iteration Dec. 30, essentially restoring the definition used prior to 2015 before it was revised under the Obama administration. The new rule, however, incorporates a complicated two-part standard to identify which waters are regulated.
“As it stands, the rule does not provide the certainty we need,” Wiegard says. “ASA wants to see the definition rewritten so it does not place undue burden on our farmers.”
The current WOTUS rule officially went into effect March 20, despite the fact that it is facing several legal challenges and a pending Supreme Court opinion. ASA is also supporting several lower court cases that were filed to enjoin the rule.
In another ASA-endorsed challenge, on March 9 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a joint resolution disapproving the WOTUS rule under the Congressional Review Act. The Senate, in turn, passed the resolution on March 29, sending it to President Biden’s desk. If enacted, the measure would invalidate the regulation as it stands.
“The president is expected to veto the resolution, but it sends a strong bipartisan message that the new rule is unworkable,” Wiegard says. “It might push the administration to require some changes from the EPA.”
The final say on this matter will rest with the Supreme Court, which could issue a ruling any day, Wiegard says.
“It was the very first case the court heard when the session started in October, but they could wait until the session ends in June, which is when they often roll out the most controversial opinions,” she says. “One way or another, we’re likely to get a new rule or revision, we just don’t know yet what mechanism will force that to happen. We’re in wait-and-see mode.”
Another complex issue ASA has been actively following is EPA’s attempt to bring pesticide registrations in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. The agency has registered and reregistered pesticides without going through the ESA process for decades due to the sheer volume of work it requires. Bypassing this process has led to a barrage of lawsuits, which could cause the courts to vacate pesticide registrations.
In response, EPA in November released a new workplan that will impact how pesticides are registered, labeled and used in the United States. The workplan also highlights mitigation measures intended to reduce spray drift and surface water runoff, minimizing pesticide exposure to endangered species. The list includes practices such as vegetative filter strips, grassed waterways, field borders, reduced tillage and cover crops.
Kyle Kunkler, ASA director of government affairs, acknowledges the gravity of the situation and says the association and its members are invested in helping to find a solution.
“Growers want the agency to be compliant,” he says. “If not, we’re going to continue to lose registrations and tools in court. This is probably one of the largest, most existential issues to threaten the ability of growers to access pesticides.”
While applauding EPA’s current efforts, Kunkler says the workplan only focuses on creating new mitigation measures without taking into account the conservation and production practices farmers have already implemented.
“Farmers are the original conservationists,” he says. “They want to leave their land in as good a shape — if not better — than when they started farming. And that means by protecting wildlife, too. But at the same time, farmers want to know that if they must adopt protections, there’s sound, scientific justification for them.”
Amid this scrutiny, the ASA team has been working closely with EPA to ensure an effective, efficient, evidence-based regulatory process for registering pesticides going forward. The goal, Kunkler says, is to make sure growers maintain access to the current tools and create an easier pathway for new products to come online.
“EPA has an obligation to use the best available science in making decisions, and there’s a lot of data out there that isn’t being considered,” he says. “The good news is that we are having productive dialogues with EPA, and I really think they’re listening.”
ASA Director Alan Meadows (TN), who serves as chair of ASA’s Regulatory Advocacy Team, participated in a forum last summer hosted by the Congressional Western Caucus to discuss the importance of modernizing the Endangered Species Act.
Members of the ASA government affairs team say it’s critical that farmers take part in conversations about these and other policy priorities.
“My advice to farmers is get to know your association staff at the state and national level and be a resource for them,” Kunkler says. “We have some good ideas and perspectives but nowhere near all the answers.”
Keeping in touch with elected officials is also an important way farmers can share their voice, adds Seyfert.
“Stay engaged and build relationships with your members of Congress and their staff,” she says. “Even if you have a seasoned member who’s been in office a long time, that doesn’t mean their staff has. Make those connections.”
For specific opportunities to weigh in on important issues, Seyfert advises farmers to keep an eye out for ASA’s “Action Alerts,” passed on from ASA by their state soy affiliates, or visit the Soy Action Center, an online engagement tool with a number of valuable resources, to access calls to action directly The site can be found at soygrowers.com/soy-action-center/.
New Year, New Uses: U.S. Soy Eyes Biobased Opportunities, Growth
The soybean industry has long partnered with companies and invested resources into biobased product development—but there’s vast opportunity for growth that benefits U.S. soy growers, consumers and the environment. To spotlight how soy fits into arising biobased opportunities following President Biden’s recent biobased executive order and other program announcements, ASA launched a biobased social media campaign in January that explored the over-1,000 current industrial uses for soy and more. Here are examples of ASA’s #SoyBiobased posts highlighting the mighty bean’s many uses along with opportunities to foster growth in the agriculture bioeconomy.
Reliable, sustainable soy products are made and used in products everywhere—from Aveeno to NASA! Read more “soy success stories” at soybiobased.org.
Soy is clean, affordable, dependable and sustainable. Researching and finding new biobased uses just makes sense for U.S. soybean farmers, non-food end users, consumers and the planet.
Where can you find soy? There are three primary categories dominating the biobased market today: coatings, adhesives and fiber. The future for #SoyBiobased is promising, with many industries using soy as a desirable alternative to harmful chemicals.
DYK? Soybeans remove CO2 from the air, helping manufacturers and other end users meet their #sustainability goals. That’s one #ClimateSmart bean.
USDA's Bioproduct Pilot Program, established through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, will provide $10 million over two years to study the benefits of biobased products for construction materials and consumer products.
ASA has been vocal about supporting investment in bioeconomy research and development. Soy growers applaud this effort and look forward to working with the administration in continuing to develop #SoyBiobased markets.