March 19, 2015

19/03/2015: US Senator Daines demands answers for grain shipping delays

Citing lingering questions surrounding the 2014 shutdown of a major seaport for Montana grain, US Senator Steve Daines demanded this week that US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack turn over safety reports, according to The Independent Record.

Daines, Montana’s Republican senator, confronted Vilsack on Tuesday about the shutdown during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture hearing.

The senator’s request stems from a five-week period last July and August when grain inspectors in Washington state refused to the cross union picket lines at the United Grain terminal near Vancouver. The lack of inspection delayed United Grain exports for more than five weeks and angered Montana wheat farmers who said the delays endangered sales with contracted delivery dates.
“It was a great concern as they were looking at (grain) backing up here and not seeing an end as the port was shut down for five weeks,” Daines told Vilsack.

“There were several members of Congress, including myself, that urged the department to have an executable plan in place that can be implemented immediately to ensure the inspections were not interrupted.”

There was no plan that summer. Federal law requires that all grain be inspected and certified before leaving the country. The burden of those inspections falls on the US Department of Agriculture, but the department has the ability to pass the actual work to state inspectors. At United Grain, the inspections were being done by the Washington government employees, who were called away from the facility by the state’s governor, who cited safety concerns after clashes between picketers and United employees.

At the time, Daines and other lawmakers requested the federal grain inspectors intervene, but the USDA insisted it would have to assess the safety of the situation before sending inspectors in. The inspections remain delayed until United settled its labor dispute with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, after which state grain inspectors returned to work.

By the time the state grain inspectors returned, Grain groups in Montana and elsewhere were accusing the USDA of stalling to force United Grain to settle with the union.

“I was not under the impression that there was a significant delay,” Vilsack told Daines.

“There was some uncertainty about who was going to inspect the grain and how safe the circumstances and conditions were. But I would be more than happy to take a look at it to see if it negatively affected your producers.”

Read more and watch the video HERE.

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