Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers represents Washington’s 5th district, which includes much of Eastern Washington. As chair of the House Republican Conference, she is currently the fourth highest-ranking Republican. She was first elected in 2004.
McMorris Rodgers spoke with the Capital Press Feb. 21 about passage of the 2014 Farm Bill and issues on the horizon for agriculture.
Q. How does the farm bill impact Eastern Washington farmers?
A. The farm bill positively impacts farmers in Eastern Washington in several ways. It provides a certainty that farmers and growers need so they can make important decisions related to crops moving forward.
Within the farm bill, the crop insurance program is especially important to our wheat growers. They gave up direct payments, but we need to have that crop insurance safety net as they move forward.
The research dollars for the next generation of wheat, potatoes and specialty crops — so much of that research is done at Washington State University. That’s important to keeping us competitive.
The Market Access Program allows us to get our produce and products all around the world. We export 90 percent of our wheat and 80 percent of our potatoes. It’s so important that we continue to develop those markets.
Q. Is there anything you wish had been in the farm bill or find troubling?
A. We’re going to be watching very closely as the farm bill is implemented. There’s some new provisions that allow the Food and Drug Administration to be writing some rules. We’re going to be making sure they write those new rules in a way that will be workable for the farmers. There’s some new requirements coming down, so making sure our local offices are up to speed and can be helpful and knowledgeable to the farmers when they go in with questions and help them fill out all the paperwork. That’s going to be important.
Overall, I think agriculture is grateful we were able to get the farm bill. It took much longer than it should have. It’s important to agriculture, to our economy, to keeping us competitive in agriculture and on the forefront moving forward.
Q. Rep. Doc Hastings has announced his intention to retire at the end of 2014. What does this mean for agricultural representation in Congress?
A. Doc has been providing important leadership in agriculture and forestry and all the resource industries for many years. Most recently, he has been serving as the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. In that role, he’s the point person nationally for so many of these issues, especially those related to water, land use and forest management. The Bonneville Power Administration falls under the resources committee, a lot of our energy policy is split between the resources committee and the energy and commerce committee, on which I serve.
He has been a tremendous leader and he will be missed. He’s played an important role in making sure we continue to have low cost energy in this state. It gives us a competitive advantage for our economy and for so many industries. He’s a leader on the Columbia River Treaty negotiations and making sure our interests are protected there.
He’s led on the Healthy Forest Act. I’m one of the original co-sponsors on it, but he’s taken the lead on this legislation, which is about taking steps to better manage our forests so we have healthy forests. Not (just) to take care of the forest, but also to remove the dead, diseased, dying timber. It also is all of the jobs related to thinning, whether it’s mills, the biomass facilities, the wood chip facilities or the paper facilities. All of that is dependent upon that access to timber.
Q. Are you hoping to take over any of Hastings’ efforts once he leaves?
A. I do. I anticipate that I’ll be providing even more leadership on many of these issues for Washington state.
Q. Any ideas on who you’d like to see take over for him?
A. At this point I know that there are several people interested in the position. I’m just going to observe for a while.
Q. One of Hastings’ recent movements has been Endangered Species Act reform. How likely is reform?
A. I think it is important that we talk about these laws. Many of these environmental laws, whether it’s the ESA, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act — all of these laws need to be looked at through the lens in which we live today. So many of them were written 30 and 40 years ago in a different time. They need to be updated. We need to look at these policies recognizing where industry is today and what kind of land and water use we have. I applaud the efforts to update the Endangered Species Act and look at reform that will make it workable, so it’s not just about making it difficult to move forward on projects. We’re actually taking steps to protect species, but also recognizing that we need workable, reasonable land and water use policies.
Q. What do you foresee for immigration in agriculture?
A. Obviously within agriculture, we continue to have significant workforce needs. For Washington state, in any given year, we need between 80,000 and 100,000 people to help pick our product. Our current H-2A guest worker program will provide 5,000 to 10,000, so it doesn’t come close to meeting the need. It is very important that we are taking steps to fix what is a broken immigration system. I’m hopeful we’re going to continue to see more progress on this front in 2014. Several of these bills have passed the judiciary committee in the House, and I think we’re going to start seeing more of those bills come to the floor.
Q. Anything else you’d like to add?
A. Going back to the farm bill, another very important provision we got included in the final hours was the forest roads language, which provides more guidance related to requirements on private landowners that have forest roads. This is in response to a court decision that brought down some pretty significant requirements and costs that were in many ways just going to be impossible to implement. (This is) a more reasonable approach, and we got that included in the final farm bill, which was very important to the Northwest.