POLITICO's Morning Agriculture: Pruitt friends weigh hiring private attorneys to rewrite WOTUS — Seven Senate Ag Democrats building war chests for 2018 — California, where pot is becoming Big Ag

By Jason Huffman | 04/18/2017 10:00 AM EDT

With help from Catherine Boudreau, Brent Griffiths and Jenny Hopkinson

PRUITT FRIENDS WEIGH HIRING PRIVATE ATTORNEYS TO REWRITE WOTUS: There is a way that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt could sidestep career bureaucrats to redo the Obama administration's Waters of the U.S. rule, industry groups close to the leader believe, reports Pro Energy's Annie Snider. He could hire lawyers from the private sector, effectively privatizing the rulemaking process.

The idea is taking shape in discussions among members of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, which lobbies to restrain the scope of federal water regulation on behalf of more than 60 industry groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Mining Association, Snider writes. The coalition is represented by Hunton & Williams LLP, whose lawyers fought Obama-era environmental regulations alongside Pruitt when he was attorney general of Oklahoma.

But legal experts say the unusual move also would raise a host of ethical questions and likely limit the public's view into how decisions are made about which streams, wetlands and lakes across the country receive federal protection. Read Snider's article here.

HAPPY TUESDAY, APRIL 18! Welcome to Morning Ag, where your host wonders - along with Eater - where have all the fast food playgrounds gone? Thoughts, news, tips? Send them to jhuffman@politico.com or @JsonHuffman. Follow the whole team at @Morning_Ag.

SEVEN SENATE AG DEMS BUILDING WAR CHESTS FOR 2018: The battle for the Senate in 2018 includes seven of the Senate Agriculture Committee's 10 Democratic members, but early fundraising returns show they should have plenty of firepower. Here's a rundown based on Federal Election Commission filings, campaign announcements and a generous assist from our colleagues at Morning Score:

Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) raised $1.4 million and has a total of $4.3 million on hand. The Detroit News reported in February that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is already running attack ads against Senate Agriculture's ranking member - and that Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is considering mounting what could be the first real election challenge Stabenow's had in 16 years. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) is also in good shape, with $1.6 million raised and $2 million in the bank, as POLITICO reported earlier this month. CNN reported recently that some GOP lawmakers are discouraging Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) from running against her because of his history of making controversial remarks.

Sherrod Brown (Ohio) has raised $2.4 million and has $5 million on hand. He is expected to face a challenge from Josh Mandel, Ohio's 39-year-old Republican state treasurer. The contest would be a rematch of the 2012 election, which Brown won by 50.7 percent to Mandel's 44.7 percent. Also expected to face a tough race is Joe Donnelly (Ind.), who has raised $1.3 million and has $2.5 million on hand.

Other Senate Ag Democrats and their early numbers: Bob Casey (Pa.) has $2.7 million raised and $3.8 million on hand, Morning Score reports. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) has raised $1.45 million and has $3.1 million on hand, according to Minnesota Public Radio. And Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) has pulled in $4.4 million and has $5.7 million on hand, FEC filings show.

Beyond the Senate Agriculture Committee, organic farmer and Senate Democrat Jon Tester of Montana has raised $2 million and has $3.2 million on hand, according to figures provided by his campaign. He is one of five Senate Democrats facing reelection in states that Trump won by double digits last year, POLITICO reports.

CALIFORNIA, WHERE POT IS BECOMING BIG AG: California lawmakers are working on regulations to implement the state ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana that passed in November, The New York Times reports . And even before they do that, marijuana farming is already moving to a mass scale in California's Salinas Valley, with farms as large as 50 acres converting to pot from fruits and vegetables, according to the article. Thirty states have now legalized marijuana in some form, and California could eventually grow enough to serve the nation - as soon as restrictions against transporting across state lines are eliminated. But the trend toward larger farms is leading to tension with some smaller growers, who fear being wiped out. As the Times reports: "'We are watching the industrialization of commercial cannabis,' said Tawnie Logan, chairwoman of the board of the California Growers Association, an organization that lobbies for cottage growers' access to the market. 'For them, the name of the game is the profit margin.'"

ICYMI, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation late last week that would legalize recreational marijuana use in Canada as soon as next year.

NEBRASKA LAWMAKER PRESSES ON RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE: Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), a member of the Ways and Means committee, is asking his colleagues to support funding for rural infrastructure. During a farm-bill listening session in Nebraska on Monday, one questioner pressed Smith on the lack of matching funds needed to help repair local irrigation products.

Trump has repeatedly touted his $1 trillion infrastructure plan, but the details could make rural Republicans uneasy. Trump tends to favor public-private partnerships, versus just injecting federal funds, but leaders like Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate's Commerce Committee, have said that such arrangements can be tough to sell in rural areas.

Smith also defended keeping SNAP in the farm bill despite multiple attendees who had an openly hostile view to the approach, including one who suggested that he might withhold his support from the six-term congressman. "I would see that as detrimental to keeping things moving forward," Smith said during a stop on his farm bill listening tour in Scottsbluff, Neb. "If we had pass all the titles that tend to have a rural interest, we couldn't do it without the votes of suburban interests ... it is about coming with the number of votes to get it done."

Smith took questions on the farm bill for more than an hour, addressing federal support for cattle ranchers, crop insurance, conservation requirements and trade.

KLOBUCHAR PUSHES EPA TO KEEP CHI-TOWN OFFICE: Sen. Amy Klobuchar is urging the EPA not to follow through with a plan to consolidate its Chicago-based office, which covers the Great Lakes, with its office headquartered in Kansas. She argues that it would be a step backward on curbing agricultural runoff and invasive species. The Chicago Sun-Times reported over the weekend that the Trump administration is considering the move. The White House has said previously that two EPA regional offices would be shuttered as part of broader budget cuts.

But the Chicago office serves several ag states - Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota - and thus environmental issues related to field runoff and other agricultural activities in those states. In a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Monday, Klobuchar said cutting the office would harm drinking water supplies for 40 million people and hurt thousands of jobs across the region.

The National Farmers Union also has raised concerns. The agency's relationship with farmers has sometimes been contentious, and Tom Driscoll, NFU's director of conservation policy, told MA that closing Region 5 could strain that relationship even more.

"Family farmers and EPA need to work together to ensure a level playing field among producers, protect critical shared resources and foster trust between farmers and consumers," Driscoll said. "Removing an EPA office from an agricultural area and forcing producers to work with regulators farther from their farms will impede productive work and effective communication between parties that need to understand each other. Closing Region 5 encourages an adversarial, rather than partnership, dynamic."

Brown's geography lesson: Sen. Sherrod Brown seemed similarly unimpressed with the plan when MA asked him for comment. "Does the EPA think Kansas is on the Great Lakes?" Brown wrote in an email to MA.

KING CHALLENGER WAS AN INTERNET PSYCHIC: Kim Weaver, an Iowa Democrat who has announced her intention to challenge Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in 2018, was a professional psychic before she got into politics, The Des Moines Register reports. "Known as 'Kimberanne' - a portmanteau of her first and middle names - and 'the Spirit Weaver,' Weaver charged customers as much as $3.99 per minute for readings online and over the phone and dispensed advice on matters ranging from romance to careers to real estate," the newspaper says. This will be Weaver's second attempt to challenge King, a member of the House Committee on Agriculture. She lost to him in 2016 by 22 percentage points. Read it here.

SCHEDULING CHANGE: Due to a late cancellation by Stephen Ostroff, the FDA's acting commissioner, the lunch keynote presentation at the Grocery Manufacturers Association's Annual Science Forum on Wednesday will now be given by Mickey Parish, the senior science adviser at the FDA's Office of the Center Director, GMA has informed MA. Parish is expected to provide the latest update on the agency's regulatory agenda.

NFU JOINS MARCH FOR SCIENCE: At least one agricultural group will be represented at the March for Science this weekend, when thousands of scientists are expected to descend on Washington, D.C., to defend evidence-based policymaking. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson will deliver a speech that calls for public policy to be based on facts and sound science, as opposed to political ideology, according to talking points provided to MA. Johnson also will highlight how farmers and ranchers rely on publicly funded, independent and transparent research to produce the food supply. That research is especially important as growing conditions change as a result of climate change.

While many agricultural groups don't take a position on climate change - studies have shown that farmers and ranchers' views on the causes of a changing climate are mixed - NFU maintains the policy that scientific evidence "clearly indicates" human activities are a contributing factor. The group supports research on farming practices that can sequester more carbon and make producers more resilient to its impacts.

Organizers of the march, which will be held on Earth Day, April 22, say it is a nonpartisan protest of "budget cuts, the censorship of researchers, disappearing data sets and threats to dismantle government agencies," according to the event's website. It arose in response to some of the Trump administration's early actions, such as nominating climate change skeptics - like EPA Administrator Pruitt - to Cabinet positions and instructing federal researchers to temporarily refrain from communicating with the public.

MA'S INSTANT OATS:

- Trump's acting solicitor general has filed a brief that opposes the Supreme Court granting a review of the case involving the two men linked to the Salmonella outbreak in 2010 that led to the largest recall of shell eggs in U.S. history, Food Safety News reports.

- It hasn't been all smooth sailing since the list of antibiotics required to be in compliance with FDA's voluntary feed directive expanded on Jan. 1, the West Fargo Pioneer reports.

- Was Trump just being more honest than past presidents when he tweeted his reluctance to call China a currency manipulator while he attempts to get Beijing to help the U.S. with its "North Korean problem?" POLITICO's Danny Vinik explores.

- Immigration is at the center of a conversation in Rep. Steve King's hometown of Kiron, Iowa, The Washington Post reports.

THAT'S ALL FOR MA! See you again soon! In the meantime, drop your host and the rest of the team a line: cboudreau@politico.com and @ceboudreau; jhopkinson@politico.com and @JennyHops; hbottemiller@politico.com and @hbottemiller; bgriffiths@politico.com and @BrentGriffiths; jlauinger@politico.com and @jmlauinger; and jhuffman@politico.com and @JsonHuffman. You can also follow @POLITICOPro and @Morning_Ag on Twitter.

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