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Senate bills include help for orchid growers, USGS, NWS

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a package of four fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills, one of which included a bipartisan amendment added on the Senate floor by Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, that requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to submit a report on the economic and environmental impacts of importing orchids in growing media.

The bipartisan FY 2020 appropriations package includes annual funding for the federal Departments of Commerce, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and several others.

The bills now move to a conference committee to reconcile differences with the House-passed appropriations bills.

“Unfortunately, when it approved the importation of foreign orchids, the USDA ignored the warnings raised by our orchid growers about the threat of invasive species that could be imported as well,” Hirono said in a written statement. “That is why we need to quantify the impacts and identify the resources necessary to protect Hawaii’s orchid industry.

“This provision is part of a broader appropriations package that includes numerous important priorities for Hawaii, and I will continue to fight to secure these provisions as the legislation goes to conference with the House.”

The Hirono-Rubio amendment responds to concerns that Hawaii and other agricultural producers have raised about the threat posed by microscopic pests hitching a ride on imported orchids in media to Hawaii’s fragile ecosystems.

This provision would, for the first time, require the collection of data from local orchid growers on a state-by-state basis to include incidences of pest detection on orchids imported in growing media.

It also mandates an analysis of additional resources needed to prevent and mitigate the introduction of pests resulting from importing orchids in growing media.

In 2014, the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service began the rulemaking process to allow the importation of orchids in growing media from Taiwan and Korea.

In response to Hawaii orchid growers’ concerns, Hirono led the Hawaii delegation in sending comment letters to APHIS expressing concern with the proposed rules in 2015 and 2017. Despite these concerns, APHIS moved forward with publishing final rules to allow importation of orchids in growing media.

Under the amendment Hirono successfully included in the legislation, USDA is required to assess the economic and environmental impacts of these final rules on local orchid growers and outline additional resources necessary to protect growers.

Additional Hawaii priorities included in the appropriations package include:

• Funding to support the USDA Geographically Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program. The bill provides $2 million in support of the program, which reimburses producers in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and insular areas for transportation costs.

• Funding to acquire land for the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. The bill provides $6 million for the National Park Service to acquire land to add to the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail on Hawaii Island.

• Funding to replace U.S. Geological Survey facilities on Hawaii Island that were damaged during the 2018 Kilauea eruption. Language also directs USGS to keep the local community informed as plans evolve for replacing facilities.

• Language rejecting proposed staffing cuts at the National Weather Service and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. This language rejects the Trump administration’s proposal to cut staff at NWS and to merge the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center with the National Tsunami Warning Center in Alaska.

• $2 million in funding for the Micro-Grants for Food Security Program. Senator Hirono helped to create this program in the 2018 Farm Bill. Funds will be directed to nonprofit organizations in Hawaii, Alaska, and outlying areas to increase the quality and quantity of locally grown food in food insecure communities through small-scale gardening, herding, and livestock operations.

• Funds the National Sea Grant College Program at $75 million, a $7 million increase over 2019. NOAA’s Sea Grant program funds research, education, extension, and outreach activities that benefits coastal communities in Hawaii and throughout the nation.

• $3.6 billion for Community Development Block Grants. The bill rejects the Trump administration’s efforts to defund the CDBG program, one of the federal government’s most effective means to revitalize low and moderate income communities across the country. CDBG funds support home ownership, housing rehabilitation, public improvements, and economic development projects throughout the nation.

• $1.25 billion for the HOME Investment Partnership Program. The bill rejects the Trump administration’s effort to end the HOME Investment Partnership Program, a block grant to state and local government designed to produce affordable housing for low-income families.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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