An Ever-evolving Congressional Climate

By Tom Cook, President, National Renderers Association

As spring approaches, many are looking forward to the expected April showers and the subsequent flowers and greenery that remind us to appreciate the seasons of the year. For many, spring can’t come too soon following one of the most difficult winters many can remember. In some areas, the heavy snow started in November and kept coming, staying well into March. However, some areas, including the Washington, DC, area, dodged the bullet and seemed to be on the edge of the bad weather. But we know there will always be next year.

The political climate in Washington is evolving with all the new members of Congress. It appears that many of the freshmen members of Congress are not willing to do things the way they have always been done, seemingly ignoring the idea that certain things just can’t be done. This stubbornness can be both refreshing and frustrating. It does make the leadership look at alternatives to their ideas, but it also can stand in the way of some things that need to proceed. These freshmen have united as an effective block on several votes.

Congress is on two tracks. The first is to keep the government running this current year. It did not pass any of the 2011 spending bills in the last Congress. When this happens, Congress operates on continuing resolutions to keep the government in business. These resolutions usually last for extended periods, sometimes for the entire year. But this Congress is doing resolutions for much shorter periods and it’s difficult to say how long the government will be running on continuing resolutions every two weeks. It is not a very good way to run things.

The second track is the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget and related spending bills. Hearings are underway with the various appropriations committees reviewing President Barack Obama’s FY 2012 budget.

The Obama administration and the Republican controlled House of Representatives are at loggerheads over how to proceed. Usually, the dialogue would be about spending cuts for FY 2012 and the continuing resolutions would be an extension in FY 2011 of the FY 2010 spending levels. However, the House is pushing for major cuts in the resolutions for this year. The first extension had $40 billion in cuts. The Republicans’ stated goal is for $100 billion for this year. Both sides claim they do not want a government shut down over this. However, at this time, they are miles apart in what they will agree to. There will be a lot of posturing by both sides before it is all over.

On the other hand, renderers are enjoying some of the best prices anyone can remember. With good times, we cannot be complacent with some of the issues facing the industry. In the last issue of Render I wrote about the need for the industry to communicate its story better to the appropriate audiences. We are proceeding with a proposal to be presented at the National Renderers Association’s (NRA’s) annual spring meeting.

Policies regarding biofuels and other alternative fuel uses will also be addressed at the spring meeting. For the first time, it’s possible the new Congress will seriously challenge the existing tax benefits and other programs available to ethanol, biodiesel, and other sources of alternative energy. Renderers will have to understand the new landscape and determine where the industry wants to fit. Although there is still ample support for these programs, there is a stronger than usual movement to either eliminate or cut back on government spending, these programs included.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture export promotion programs that have directly benefitted renderers are under greater scrutiny than ever before. Market research studies have shown these programs return $32 on every dollar invested. It will be the industry’s task to convince Congress that not all programs are wasteful and unnecessary.

Exports are actually an area of potential growth. The Obama administration has moved forward with supporting the Korean Free Trade Agreement and has made progress in resolving the Mexican trucking dispute. Obama wants to double exports within five years under what is now called the National Export Initiative. Collectively, these actions speak positively toward the need to enhance export opportunities.

The rendering industry must become more vigilant with the various regulatory agencies. During the past two years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been busy promulgating new rules that will pose economic consequences to various industries, rendering included.

The NRA has already met with EPA officials on proposed rulemaking that would affect renderers. EPA activities have been temporarily slowed down by the new Republican controlled House and agency officials are being called before congressional committees for oversight hearings to justify their activities. This is a good and needed system of checks and balances for the process. However, if Congress slows down or even stops the EPA, the agency can move forward on many issues by executive order. This is not a good option.

Another growing challenge is other industries or practices attempting to convince lawmakers and regulatory officials that they have a better way to dispose of the materials renderers process. We cannot let these claims go unchallenged.

The NRA’s 11th Annual Washington Fly-in will be June 13-15, 2011. With 100 new members of Congress, I can’t think of a greater need to participate in the fly-in this year. If renderers don’t take their story to Congress, no one else will do it for them. If we are out of sight, we are out of mind. It is that simple.

The NRA is a relatively small organization with a small staff representing an essential industry. Our resources are limited, but our story is a positive one. We have been known for getting a big bang for our buck. We have the message; our challenge is to get to the right audience.

From the Association – April 2011 RENDER | back