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National Drought Policy Commission (NDPC)

Minutes - September 22, 1999 Meeting

The following summarizes the proceedings of the National Drought Policy Commission (Commission) meeting held on September 22, 1999, in Washington, D.C. The summary is based on staff notes and review of the meeting video/audio. Attachment 1 provides a copy of the meeting agenda, and Attachment 2 provides a list of the meeting attendees.

1. Opening Remarks - Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman

Dan Glickman, Chair of Commission, welcomed the other Commissioners to Washington, D.C., thanked them for their participation, and indicated the importance of this Commission in relation to national policy. Recent floods caused by Hurricane Floyd are highly visible events with visible damages whereas drought and its effects can be more difficult to see. Because of the rains, many people think there wasn’t drought damage, but of course the rains came too late for crops in most cases. Congress is currently working on emergency assistance, the bulk of which will compensate farmers for low prices. Low prices is also a problem.

Drought is a kind of silent disaster that is slow and insidious but can be worse in many circumstances than a catastrophic disaster. Unfortunately, James Lee Witt, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has mentioned numerous times that under Federal statue dealing with disaster, those that involve FEMA and the Small Business Administration, farmers and ranchers are by statute excluded from the definition of small business and therefore do not get assistance. These people may also loose a residence or structure in a catastrophic disaster so the Commission needs to consider how Federal disaster relief as a whole compensates people. What is done for drought may have an impact on disaster policy in general.

In dealing with a natural disaster the right hand does not always know what the left is doing. Disasters make you sit down and talk about public policy. What is the appropriate role of government can be argued in a lot of areas. But when it comes to a natural disaster most people say there is a role here for government, and people really don’t argue about that. The other thing that has made a big difference under this administration, FEMA, particularly under James Lee Witt, has done such an outstanding job at changing the image of the government in dealing with people in disaster consequences. The President tells a story, when he goes and visits a crowd, Witt gets more applause than he does. So I think that speaks very well, that this is an area that government can do a really fine job with.

Questions or Comments by Commissioners:

Robert Miller related to the Commission that he had heard from many folks in the countryside that they felt the Secretary was looking after the farmer’s needs in this issue.

Mayor Sam Kathryn Campana related that the National Public Radio spots with the Secretary were very effective in showing the effects of natural disaster on farmers.

Ane Deister related that while there were some problems and challenges raised at the public hearing in the morning, it’s important to also note that there were speakers who thought that many of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs were useful in dealing with their drought issues. Some went so far as to suggest that those successful, existing programs need to be expanded or made more inclusive. Examples of useful programs were the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Emergency Conservation Program, and some of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) financial programs.

Ronald Morriss observed that this Commission, through its public hearing process, has allowed small farmers to speak up about their problems that drought has compounded. Small farms are going out of business.

2. Election of Vice Chair

Deputy Secretary Rominger assumed the chair and opened the agenda to nominations for a Vice Chair, who by law, must be a non-Federal member. Robert Miller nominated Ronald Morriss; the motion was seconded by Robert "Bob" Brown. Ronald Morriss was elected by acclamation as the non-Federal Vice Chair of the Commission.

3. Report on White House Drought Task Force

Deputy Secretary Rominger reported on the activities of the special White House Drought Task Force established on August 6, 1999. He emphasized the temporary nature of the Task Force and the President’s efforts to address the drought issues of this year and have a coordinated effort. The White House Drought Task Force might present recommendations to the Commission at a later date but in no way will usurp the charge of this Commission to produce recommendations for a National Drought Policy for the country.

4. Discussion - Commission Members

Ronald Morriss, as Vice Chair, led the rest of the meeting. He requested that each member express his/her opinion on the direction of the Commission in light of the morning’s public hearing. The Commission looks forward to reading the written comments provided by the presenters at this morning’s public hearing.

Ane Deister - On listening to the presenters’ views of drought at the public hearing, it appears there is benefit to be gained through using a systems approach to mitigate the serious effects of drought effectively. The report that the Army Corps of Engineers’ panel group presented emphasized that some agencies have spent over 20 years putting together effective processes for mitigation and have detailed reports documenting their efforts. Once again, the Commission does not need to reinvent the wheel but apply that knowledge to the heartfelt concerns of the working farmers that presented their stories in the morning.

Jane Pease (representing Bernard Kulik) - Whatever the Commission comes up with to help farmers should be timely and consistent, and there should be assurances that spending authority is there.

Ernesto Rodriguez - There is a lot of history and work that has already been done on drought. The Commission needs to take that under consideration as it moves forward with a national policy.

Robert Miller - Stories of some of the small farmers related high utility costs (some averaging $750/month) because of lower usage and no discounts. New policy should also help small farmers by preventing price gauging from Cooperatives that discount only to larger-use customers.

Ronald Morriss - The story from the thoroughbred horse farmer, who said that in a drought a horse needs more shoeing due to hard ground, emphasizes that costs are often subtly increased by a drought.

Bob Brown - It is a monumental task to evaluate all the issues that are involved in drought for policy and the process will take longer than the 6-8 weeks that the Commission has given itself. The Commission needs to depend on the working groups and that participatory process to help consider all the factors and information.

Roseann Gonzales (representing Eluid Martinez) - The Commission needs to consider how they will incorporate public hearing comments in their deliberations, report and policy recommendations. The Commission should work closer with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Project Impact. Incentives and the establishment of partnerships seem to be implementation themes being expressed by the public.

Mayor Sam Kathryn Campana - The Commission sees the value of public hearings and needs to focus on science for technical information, as well as the non-technical public views, for value judgement and heart-felt needs to create a balanced policy.

Deputy Secretary Rominger - Secretary Glickman sent a letter to Senator Dominici (NM) and Congressman Skeen (NM) requesting a 6-month extension of the report deadline to give the Commission adequate time to consider all concerns and issues, and present a comprehensive report.

Leon Smothers - A number of good points were raised in the public hearing. The working groups have emphasized risk management dealing with drought. The Commission will need to consider multiple risks with back-to-back natural disasters. The Water Resources Act of 1965 should also be considered as a possible way to deal with drought, as well as floods, with water basin-based cooperation. There is a need to identify and act upon rural issues.

Ronald Morriss - Staff should provide the Commission with an overview of the Water Resources Act of 1965 to consider in their policy deliberations.

Bruce Smith (representing Brian Burke) - The Corps of Engineers’ staff of Bill Werick and Eugene Stakhiv at the Water Resource Institute are a great resource to the Commission. Having observed the Hurricane Floyd disaster response in the last month, the Commission should consider studying FEMA’s operations and funding protocol as a model for drought disasters.

Larry Zensinger - Disasters range from earthquakes to drought in terms of the potential of planning and preparedness. The Commission is trying to recommend a policy that will create a program that responds quickly. When Congress creates solutions each year for specific problems, it doesn’t build in flexibility for slightly different but related situations in future years.

Agriculture needs to create a general disaster relief fund and give specific criteria for when and what the funding can be used for. The criteria must be general and flexible to be inclusive but specific enough to provide reassurance to Congress that it isn’t a giveaway program and has financial integrity. Rather than focus specifically on developing a policy for drought or expanding current drought assistance programs, it might be more beneficial to look into developing a general disaster policy for agricultural producers.

In order to create an effective disaster relief program for agricultural producers, there is a need to: 1) create a disaster fund, discretionary in nature so that the Secretary of Agriculture can release funding in a timely manner; 2) develop criteria for when and for what the fund would be used; and 3) ensure that the program would respond to needs at a minimum/supplemental level.

Al Peterlin (representing Secretary Glickman) - Using a model such as FEMA’s legislation and authorization fits into the strategies of the Department of Agriculture to create a more flexible and timely response to agricultural disasters and federal assistance.

Ronald Morriss - The NDPC staff , the Interagency Contact Group, and members of the five working groups were thanked for their effort in collecting information for this Commission.

Brian Schweitzer -The Commission needs to develop a process/protocol for addressing drought in an equitable, fair way throughout the country regardless of the population density. Agencies need to develop and cultivate better outreach. The country needs to support and promote conservation efforts similar to what was done in the 1930's with pro-active cost share programs with incentives for good management; and, in general, the public needs more local programs.

Jim Laver (representing John J. Kelly, Jr.) - What kind of structure does the country need to be ready for a drought at the local level, when we have some predictive ability a year ahead of time?

5. Drought Conditions - Al Peterlin and Jim Laver

This is the 2nd La Niņa Winter with the potential of a poor winter recharge. The drought will be ameliorated in Ohio and Tennessee areas west of the Appalacian Mountains. There will be an active fire season in Florida and the Southwest next spring. Hurricanes have obscured the effects of the drought in the Southeast. The drought killed the agricultural crops before the floods washed them away. Drought severity for farmers on a local level might be missed in a regional analysis. National Weather Service puts out monthly reports of precipitation and drought prediction. The information is available on the Web:

6. Status of Drought Inventories – Leona Dittus, Executive Director

The law specifically requests that the Commission consider laws, federal programs, state programs, regional initiatives, local and tribal programs related to drought. The staff is creating tables to display this research information. The Commission has hired a writer, Deanne

Kloepfer. A facilitator, Tricia Gibbons has been hired by the Bureau of Reclamation - Department of the Interior, to assist the Interagency Contact Group in assimilating the working group information into the tables.

7. Interagency Contact Group and Working Group Reports – Warren Lee, USDA, and Chris Kadas, National Governors’ Association

There were 5 Working Groups which developed drought needs, inventories, gaps and some options to address the gaps. A working paper was developed by the writer to consolidate the information. The work is still in progress. Data is still being collected from local groups, State entities, and Native American groups.

8. Future Meetings/Public Hearings

Commission members discussed scheduling the next public hearing and meeting. The next public hearing and meeting will be held in Los Angeles, California, on December 1-2, 1999, respectively. A draft of the report will be reviewed at the December 2nd meeting. It was also suggested that a public hearing be held in both Austin, Texas, and Billings, Montana, in January 2000. Dates and locations will be determined later.

Meeting Adjourned.