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Senate Passes Hirono Provision to Investigate Challenges Facing Hawaii Orchid Growers

Provision Requires USDA to Study the Economic and Environmental Impacts of Importing Orchids in Growing Media

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the U.S. Senate approved a package of four fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations bills on an 84-9 vote. In addition to supporting many needed investments for Hawaii, the legislation included a bipartisan amendment added on the Senate floor by Senator Mazie K. Hirono and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), which requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to submit a report on the economic and environmental impacts of importing orchids in growing media. 

The bipartisan FY2020 appropriations package includes annual funding for the federal Departments of Commerce, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and several others. The bill now moves to a conference committee to reconcile differences with the House-passed appropriations bills.

“Unfortunately, when it approved the importation of foreign orchids the USDA ignored the warnings raised by our orchid growers about the threat of invasive species that could be imported as well. That is why we need to quantify the impacts and identify the resources necessary to protect Hawaii’s orchid industry,” Senator Hirono said. “This provision is part of a broader appropriations package that includes numerous important priorities for Hawaii and I will continue to fight to secure these provisions as the legislation goes to conference with the House.”

The Hirono-Rubio amendment responds to concerns that Hawaii and other agricultural producers have raised about the threat posed by microscopic pests hitching a ride on imported orchids in media to Hawaii’s fragile ecosystems. This provision would, for the first time, require the collection of data from local orchid growers on a state-by-state basis to include incidences of pest detection on orchids imported in growing media. It also mandates an analysis of additional resources needed to prevent and mitigate the introduction of pests resulting from importing orchids in growing media.

In 2014, the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) began the rulemaking process to allow the importation of orchids in growing media from Taiwan and Korea. In response to Hawaii orchid growers’ concerns, Senator Hirono led the Hawaii delegation in sending comment letters to APHIS expressing concern with the proposed rules in 2015 and 2017. Despite these concerns, USDA APHIS moved forward with publishing final rules to allow importation of orchids in growing media. Under the amendment Senator Hirono successfully included in the legislation, USDA is required to assess the economic and environmental impacts of these final rules on local orchid growers and outline additional resources necessary to protect growers.

Additionally, Senator Hirono teamed up with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to include a separate measure on the floor that would provide $5 million in funding to support urban agriculture, which supports activities such as indoor and vertical farms, community gardens, and urban farms.

Additional Hawaii priorities Senator Hirono fought to protect and include in the Appropriations Package:

  • Language requiring the USDA and Department of the Interior (DOI) to report on their activities to implement the Regional Biosecurity Plan (RBP) for Micronesia and Hawaii. This report requires an update on the agencies’ activities to date to implement the RBP as well as their planned activities for further implementation.
  • Language highlighting the importance of Tropical and Subtropical crop research at USDA. This language highlights the importance of research by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in combating invasive pests that threaten crop security in the Pacific and Insular Areas
  • Funding to support the USDA Geographically Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program. The bill provides $2 million in support of the program, which reimburses producers in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and insular areas for transportation costs.
  • Funding to acquire land for the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. The bill provides $6 million for the National Park Service to acquire land to add to the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail on Hawaii Island.
  • Funding to replace U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) facilities on Hawaii Island that were damaged during the Kilauea eruption. Language also directs USGS to keep the local community informed as plans evolve for replacing facilities.
  • Funding to replace lost days at sea due to the sudden decommissioning of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hiialakai. The bill provides $7 million to replace lost days at sea for research throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
  • Language rejecting proposed staffing cuts at the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. This language rejects the Trump Administration’s proposal to cut staff at NWS and to merge the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center with the National Tsunami Warning Center in Alaska.
  • $2 million in funding for the Micro-Grants for Food Security Program. Senator Hirono helped to create this program in the 2018 Farm Bill. Funds will be directed to nonprofit organizations in Hawaii, Alaska, and outlying areas to increase the quality and quantity of locally grown food in food insecure communities through small-scale gardening, herding, and livestock operations. The Trump Administration’s budget requested no funding for this program in the FY2020 budget.
  • $162 million to the Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service Program, which ensures minimum standards for and provides subsidized air service to rural communities across the country including Waimea and Hana, that the Trump Administration has sought to eliminate in the FY2020 budget.
  • $3.7 million to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, an independent agency tasked with coordinating federal efforts to address homelessness. The Trump Administration sought to eliminate this important program in the FY2020 budget.
  • Funds the National Sea Grant College Program at $75 million, a $7 million increase over 2019. NOAA’s Sea Grant program funds research, education, extension, and outreach activities that benefits coastal communities in Hawaii and throughout the nation. The Trump Administration sought to eliminate this important program in the FY2020 budget. 
  • Funds the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Space Grant Program at $47 million, a $3 million increase over 2019. The Trump Administration sought to eliminate this important program in the FY2020 budget. The Space Grant program supports scholarships, fellowships, and internships in higher education, research infrastructure, precollege, and informal education through its 52 Space Grant consortia, including the Hawaii Space Grant Consortium at the University of Hawaii Manoa, and supports flight project activities led by student teams.
  • $4.5 million in Compact Impact Discretionary Grants. These grants provide additional financial support to affected jurisdictions to compensate for unreimbursed costs, particularly health care related costs, associated with providing services to Freely Associated States citizensThe Trump Administration requested no funding for this grant program in the FY2020 budget.
  • $3.6 billion for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). The bill rejects the Trump Administration’s efforts to defund the CDBG program, one of the federal government’s most effective means to revitalize low and moderate income communities across the country. CDBG funds support home ownership, housing rehabilitation, public improvements, and economic development projects throughout the nation. 
  • $1.25 billion for the HOME Investment Partnership Program. The bill rejects the Trump Administration’s effort to end the HOME Investment Partnership Program, a block grant to state and local government designed to produce affordable housing for low-income families.
  • $54 million for the Self-Help and Assisted Homeownership Opportunity Program. The Trump Administration sought to eliminate this program, which helps low-income homebuyers contribute to the construction of their own homes through the Self Help Homeownership Opportunity Program. The Self-Help and Assisted Home Ownership Program also helps local organizations develop affordable housing and community development projects through, and provides grants to nonprofit organizations to rehabilitate or make improvements to the residences of low-income and disabled veterans.