WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Steve Daines today demanded the release of the safety reports that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted during the shutdown of grain inspections at the Port of Vancouver.
During today’s Senate Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee hearing on the USDA’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request, Daines called on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to release the three safety reports conducted during the duration of the lockout to ensure that the USDA’s decisions are transparent and accountable to the grain growers across Montana and the nation.
“It’s relevant to me and it’s relevant to our grain growers across Montana that the USDA’s decisions are transparent and held to account and I would ask for you to release those reports for review as soon as possible,” Daines stated.
Vilsack would not commit to releasing the reports.
Daines also underscored the economic impact of interruptions in grain inspections on Montana’s growers and wheat harvest while the USDA conducted safety reviews at the Port of Vancouver last year.
“It took the USDA five weeks and until after the safety concerns were resolved to provide these following mitigations, there was a crosswalk removed, some jersey barriers installed, back-up sources for surveillance video, additional parking spots and some temporary inspectors,” Daines stated. “It is unacceptable that it took five weeks to produce these simple and low-cost mitigations, all the while the livelihoods of grain growers in Montana and across much of the West were threatened.”
Daines pressed Vilsack on the USDA’s failure to conduct federally mandated grain inspections in a timely manner at the Port of Vancouver, for several weeks due to safety concerns. Despite the severe delays in grain inspections over several weeks that cost millions in lost revenue, Vilsack denied being aware of any significant issues at the West Coast’s largest grain terminal.
“I was not under the impression that there was a significant delay,” Vilsack responded.
Last week, Daines sent a letter to Senate Agriculture Committee leaders renewing his call to ensure timely and efficient grain inspections from USDA are conducted so that normal shipments of Montana grain will continue uninterrupted. Daines’ letter is available here.
In the House, Daines fought for the immediate resumption of grain inspections at the Port of Vancouver after inspections stopped due to labor disputes.
Bulk wheat is Montana’s largest export. Montana farmers grow and export more than 150 million bushels of wheat each year. More than half of that wheat was purchased by Japan. Other markets for Montana wheat include Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Video of Senator Daines’ exchange with Secretary Vilsack is available here.