by Les Blumenthal
Agriculture: Meetings prove fruitful
WASHINGTON - Gov. Chris Gregoire and representatives of Washington's agriculture community met with seven Cabinet secretaries over the past three days to discuss everything from Mexican trucks and irrigation water to endangered salmon and migrant labor.
It was the first time in recent memory a sitting governor from Washington state brought top agriculture leaders back to Washington, D.C., to meet with high-ranking federal officials.
"We are not usually thought of as an agricultural state," Gregoire said. "It was very productive and laid the groundwork for a new partnership with a new administration."
Dan Newhouse, director of the state's Department of Agriculture, said the trip offered a "huge educational opportunity" to interact with officials with the Obama administration.
"It was a tremendously successful trip," Newhouse said Friday.
The delegation included representatives of the berry, wheat, potato, apple and other fruit tree industries, along with shippers. They met with the secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Transportation, Labor, Interior, Commerce and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, all Cabinet-level positions.
They also met with the state's congressional delegation and the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
On most issues, Gregoire said the secretaries were generally aware of the problems and possible solutions.
Mexico slapped 20 percent tariffs on potato, pear, cherry and apricot imports from Washington because of the U.S. refusal to allow Mexican trucks on American roads. And Gregoire said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood hopes to issue a proposed solution to the trade showdown.
But the governor said LaHood was unable to give a timetable for when he will act and Congress is backed up with other issues such as a Supreme Court nomination, health care reform and climate change legislation.
"This is an issue which needs immediate attention," Gregoire told reporters during a Friday afternoon news conference.
Washington growers ship roughly $40 million worth of potatoes to Mexico annually.
With the first harvest of cherries coming within two weeks, Gregoire said the delegation emphasized to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the Transportation Security Administration needs to move quickly when inspecting perishable agricultural products headed overseas.
The governor also said there were discussions with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis about migrant labor and using foreign laborers to pick cherries and other crops. By some estimates about 700 workers are need to pick the state's cherry crop.
As for Congress approving comprehensive immigration reform this year, Gregoire said the chances were slim, again, because of other priorities.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, the former Washington governor, indicated the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would ask a federal judge in Portland for an additional 30 to 45 days to further review the Bush administration's plans for reviving endangered salmon runs on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
U.S. District Judge James Redden suggested several weeks ago the Bush administration's "biological opinion" might not do enough to save the runs and breaching four dams on the lower Snake River might have to be considered if other measures fail.
Gregoire said Washington state supports the last Bush administration biological opinion, but added the White House under President George W. Bush had done a "bad" job with previous ones and initially wasn't "adequately" represented in Redden's court.
Redden ordered a "timeout" because he wanted to hear what the new administration had to say and because he wanted a backup plan that could be used if the biological option failed, Gregoire said.
"We are not supportive of dam breaching," the governor said. "We need to try everything else."
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs