05.27.21

Opening Statement of Ranking Member John Boozman at Hearing to Consider the Nomination of Janie Simms Hipp, of Arkansas, to be General Counsel at USDA

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, from the hearing to consider the nomination of Janie Simms Hipp to be general counsel at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):

Good morning. I am pleased to welcome Janie Simms Hipp to the committee as we consider her nomination to be general counsel at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ms. Hipp, if confirmed as general counsel, will be responsible for providing advice and counsel directly to the secretary and deputy secretary. In addition to overseeing the Washington, D.C.-based office, the general counsel supervises 12 field offices within Office of General Counsel (OGC).

Ms. Hipp currently serves as the CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund, created as a result of the Keepseagle litigation settlement, with a charge to distribute remaining settlement funds to eligible entities to assist, educate, and support Native American farmers and ranchers.

Ms. Hipp has a vast array of agricultural law experience spanning decades serving at USDA in several roles.

She has a deep bond in Arkansas, earning an LL.M. in agriculture and food law from the University of Arkansas School of Law; and serving in various positions at the National Center for Agricultural Law Research and Information at the University of Arkansas School of Law. It is truly great to see a fellow Razorback serving our broad agricultural community with such dedication.

It is important USDA has a general counsel who can be relied upon by Congress and the agriculture community to provide sound, practical, and candid legal guidance to the department. Aggies have many concerns these days, some of which are a direct result of action, or inaction, by the department.

For instance, I remain concerned the administration may force the establishment of a “bank” through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) that would intervene in markets for environmental offsets, or pay farmers, ranchers, and forest-owners for anything “carbon.”

Congress has received neither details nor a legal basis for the establishment of a bank, as the idea seems to constantly evolve and be based on a shaky legal interpretation.

I remain opposed to any effort to shoehorn the establishment and operation of a “carbon bank” into the CCC authority, and I ask the department to communicate details about how such a bank would work, and provide comprehensive legal justification for the establishment of a “bank” prior to any such action taking place.

I expect OGC and the department to follow the call to transparency on important issues, by providing Congress and the public with the basis of its positions. Transparency is key to a good working relationship with Congress, and the lack of it shown so far by the department is concerning to say the least.

I also hope OGC can assist USDA in releasing nearly two billion in financial relief to contract poultry and livestock producers and expediting the regulatory approval for billions more in assistance to producers of agricultural commodities affected by the pandemic.

Using resources from the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the department has access to resources to help farmers across the country recover from COVID-19. It is vital this relief reaches those who need it. So, Ms. Hipp, if confirmed, I urge you to do all you can to assist in breaking the log-jam, releasing the funds and expediting the regulatory review process.

Finally, I remain concerned for the future of USDA’s new swine inspection system. Due to a court ruling, USDA will need to reconsider this program and chose a path forward. Their decision will impact thousands of hog farmers, so I implore you to weigh this decision carefully.

Before closing, I would like to mention an issue that really very important to a great number of members of this committee. Several of you have written to me and the Chairwoman asking the committee hold a hearing on livestock and cattle market issues. I believe this is an important topic that warrants review by the committee and I urge the committee to plan as soon as possible to have a hearing. I think the livestock industry, and I was part of this industry for many years, is in a very difficult situation right now. We need to understand exactly what’s going on in that regard and begin to offer solutions.

With that, I yield back to Chairwoman Stabenow.