Lawmakers to work on GMO, energy bills

Source: Marc Heller and Geof Koss, E&E reporters • Posted: Monday, March 14, 2016

The Senate this week may take up legislation preventing states from requiring labels on foods derived from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, with votes also possible on the stalled bipartisan energy bill and assistance for Flint, Mich.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has been negotiating with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) toward a voluntary labeling system that could gain enough Democratic votes to overcome procedural hurdles.

As of Friday, senators hadn’t reached an agreement, their offices said. But lobbyists following the issue said they were confident lawmakers would find middle ground in time to put the issue to a vote during the week.

A spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said a vote on Roberts’ legislation was “certainly possible” in the coming days.

Without congressional action, mandatory labeling takes effect in Vermont on July 1. Senators on both sides of the aisle say they want to avoid standards that vary from state to state.

Stabenow, the Agriculture Committee’s ranking member, has said she doesn’t believe anything short of mandatory labeling — or a measure that signals mandatory disclosures will eventually come — can pass the Senate.

One possibility, lawmakers said, is a system that begins as voluntary but becomes mandatory if too few companies label their GMO-derived products in the first few years.

Stabenow also continues discussions with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) over aid for Flint residents, who have been exposed to lead in the city’s drinking water crisis.

Lee objects to the $220 million federal package, saying state and local decisions contributed to the disaster. Lee says Michigan has a budget surplus and should, therefore, pay for addressing its water woes.

Nonetheless, he and Stabenow are working on a compromise that would require lawmakers to immediately offset any federal funds sent to Flint. The pair continues to run into “technicalities” with the Congressional Budget Office, Stabenow said Thursday.

“The pay-for is a loan program, and how CBO has scored this has been a problem,” she told reporters. “So we’re just trying to get it worked out. It’s close.”

Senators have spent weeks trying to untangle the Flint issue from the broader bipartisan energy bill, S. 2012, in the hopes of getting an agreement that would allow for votes on roughly three dozen amendments and final passage.

While efforts continue on finding a compromise, Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) last week said Senate leaders may move forward with a plan to force the energy bill back on the floor (E&ENews PM, March 10).