[imgcontainer right] [img:NMfire.jpeg] [source]U.S. Forest Service/Denver Post[/source] Fires in New Mexico have now covered over 400 square miles. The Denver Post has collected some incredible photos of the scene, here. [/imgcontainer]

Capitol Police arrested more than 20 opponents of mountaintop coal strip mining at four U.S. House offices. 

The people had come to Washington D.C. to talk to elected officials about the environmental and health effects of mountaintop mining. At least six people from Kentucky who had tried to meet with Rep. Hal Rogers were arrested after they started singing in a waiting room, staying after they were asked to leave.

The groups also sat in the offices of Reps. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and Jimmy Duncan, R-Tenn.

It has been a bizarre time. In another incident, Capitol Police questioned long-time mountaintop removal activist Maria Gunnoe about child pornography. Gunnoe testified before a House committee last Friday. She wanted to show the picture of a girl taking a bath in tainted water the color of tea. The girl is about four years old. The picture was taken by a professional, Katie Falkenberg, and Gunnoe intended to use it in her testimony with the mother’s permission. (See the picture here.) 

Staff for U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn would not allow Gunnoe to show the photo and turned it over to police. They questioned Gunnoe for about 45 minutes. Here is Coal Tattoo’s Ken Ward Jr.: 

If I seem a little troubled by all of this, I guess I am.  I’ve got bathtub photos of my son. Most parents have them. Such moments are later treasured by parents, and bring eye-rolling embarrassment or worse from the kids.  But not many kids will get stuck with hearing the story of the time their bath-time photo was not only paraded around the halls of Congress, tossed around all matter of websites, but also prompted a totally absurd child pornography investigation by the Capitol police.

By the end of the day, coal mining region residents didn’t get to talk to their representatives and a House committee was more concerned about a photograph than the water children bathe in. 

• Meanwhile, the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Bill Estep reports that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has sued seven mining companies, accusing them of burying sections of streams in Eastern Kentucky without getting proper permits.

The EPA says the companies buried 11,256 feet of streams at mountaintop removal surface mines in Pike, Floyd and Magoffin counties. 

R-CALF says that Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack has appointed Larry Mitchell to be Administrator of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration.

Mitchell will take the place of J. Dudley Butler at the agency that monitors markets and competition for most farm products.

Butler resigned from GIPSA after Congress blocked most of the reforms he pushed. Butler’s reforms would have strengthened the market position of small producers.

R-CALF says Mitchell is a former Texas farmer who has held positions in the American Agriculture Movement, National Farmers Union, and the American Corn Growers Association. 

• The AP has written its story on worries that corporate funding could be distorting ag research at universities. 

The story begins: “The gap between federal support for agricultural research at large public universities and private investment continues to grow — and the divide comes with increased threats to academic freedom and more instances of meddling in the lab, a new research report suggests.” 

The report comes from Food and Water Watch, an environmental group. 

• At the same time, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is speaking out against proposed cuts in ag research. 

The House budget bill calls for cuts in ag research funding. The Obama administration is proposing increased funding. “The president recognizes that studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research generates a return on investment of over $20 in economic activity,” Vilsack said.

• Farm Bill reporting is now coming fast and furious.

The Washington Post notes that debate on the bill is to begin today, a bill that would “slash tens of billions of dollars in direct subsidies to farmers and in the federal food stamp program.” 

The New York Times says new insurance provisions in the farm bill “could cost U.S. billions.” 

• Several environmentalists, including Bill McKibben, have written an open letter to Congress on the farm bill. 

They say the current Senate version “Senate bill falls far short of the reforms needed to come to grips with the nation’s critical food and farming challenges. It is also seriously out of step with the nation’s priorities and what the American public expects and wants from our food and farm policy.” 

• Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is complaining to Education Secretary Arne Duncan that federal Race to the Top funding for schools is not going to states with large rural populations

“I made it clear to the secretary that it is just unacceptable,” Sanders said, “I think he is increasingly aware that rural states are not happy with the situation.”

• The House is cutting funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission by 41 percent, the New York Times reports

The futures market has grown eightfold since the 1990s while the agency assigned to regulate this trading has grown only 10 percent. Thousands of farmers use the markets to manage their businesses.

• Sen. John McCain intends to include an amendment on the farm bill that requires the Defense Department to provide details on the impact of $500 billion in budget cuts that will take place automatically at the beginning of the next year. 

Nothing personal about the farm bill. Republicans are putting the request on every bill that comes down the pike.

• Republican Sen. Charles Grassley on the congressional race in Iowa between U.S. Rep. Steve King, a conservative Republican, and Christie Vilsack, wife of the former governor and current USDA Secretary: 

“King has got a Republican district, but a little less Republican, and boy, there is going to be a massive amount of money spent on that. I think that King can win that, and I think he is taking it very seriously like he hasn’t taken so seriously some of his past opponents,” Grassley told reporters in a telephone conference call.

• The EPA was more aggressive during the Bush administration than it is now, DTN reports

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