- Associated Press - Saturday, August 9, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congress adjourned last week for its summer break. With elections scheduled in November, the body isn’t expected to consider anything significant until after voters head to the polls. A look back at five key moments for North Dakota during Congress’ work in 2014.


Months of delays and extensions gave way to compromise. Congress approved a $100 billion-a-year farm bill in early February, sketching out farm and food policy for five years. The bill delivered security to farmers and includes $57.6 billion for conservation programs. The bill also requires farmers who seek government subsidized crop insurance to follow certain conservation practices and cuts some subsidies from farmers who farm on protected lands. The bill also restored disaster programs that had expired. That allowed ranchers and farmers affected by an October early-season blizzard to apply for relief.


North Dakota Dakota’s congressional delegation made a habit of fighting the Obama administration in 2014. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, and John Hoeven, a Republican, and GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer criticized administration proposals on ethanol, expressed frequent frustration with delays about a decision the Keystone XL oil pipeline, criticized environmental policies and called for more attention from transportation officials to the state’s expanding infrastructure needs. In some instances, the administration responded to the criticism: Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency visited the state and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx held multiple meetings with the delegation. In other instances, such as with Keystone, the response has been no response at all.


North Dakota lawmakers pushed back furiously after it appeared the Obama administration was considering increasing its regulations on small farm operations. They ultimately received assurances in February that the Occupation Safety and Health Administration had no plans to begin regulating smaller farms and clarified its policies. Beginning in 1976, Congress has categorically forbidden OSHA from regulating small farms. But a Department of Labor memo from 2011 appeared to open the door to doing just that. The U.S. Department of Labor announced that it was withdrawing the memo to avoid any confusion and said it was only trying to address a rash of grain bin deaths.


When a major water bill cleared Congress in May, North Dakota’s longstanding hopes of a diversion for the chronically flood-threatened Fargo-Moorhead, Minnesota metro area took a big step forward. The bill included congressional authorization for a diversion project will allow up to $846.7 million in federal funds for a diversion project in the Red River Valley. Fargo and Moorhead have seen major flooding or the threat of it in four of the past five years, and the diversion is seen by many as a long-term solution. Authorization doesn’t guarantee funding - Congress will still have to pass separate funding bills -but it will allow the project to get started and gives the project a sense of momentum.


North Dakotans won’t have to pay for their use of the Missouri River for at least 10 years, thanks to another provision tucked into a massive water projects bill. Sen. John Hoeven worked on language that would stop an Army Corps of Engineers proposal to charge residents and businesses for access to the Missouri River and its reservoirs. When Congress approved the water projects bill in May, it included language Hoeven wrote that forbids the Corps from any proposal that charges for Missouri River water for at least a decade.

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