Senate Dems urge full funding of conservation programs

By Stephen Davies

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 18, 2016 - Thirty-two Senate Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders are calling for “full and mandatory funding for farm bill conservation programs.”

“As you know, the 2014 farm bill prioritized conservation investments while saving taxpayers billions of dollars by reforming and consolidating programs,” the senators said in a letter to Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and the ranking member, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. “Unfortunately, since the farm bill has been enacted, these conservation programs have been subject to changes in mandatory program spending and millions of dollars in cuts.”

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“We appreciate the president's FY 2017 budget request to fully fund farm bill conservation programs and urge you and your subcommittee to prioritize conservation and enhancement of our natural resources as a vital investment in our future,” the senators said.

Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Chris Coons of Delaware “steered the effort,” the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) said. Other signers include Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and the Senate's second and third most senior Democrats, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York.

“In addition to the conservation savings achieved in the 2014 farm bill, enacted spending bills have cut private lands conservation spending by more than $2 billion over the last five years,” the letter said.

“Less funding for voluntary conservation programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) means more pollution, more regulation, and less productive and profitable farmlands as soil erodes and nutrients are lost.”

“Further, as a result of the changes in mandatory programs spending included in FY 2015 appropriations legislation, only 23 percent of eligible EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) applicants and 28 percent of eligible CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program) applicants were able to enroll nationwide,” the senators said. “Half of the states in the U.S. turned away 75 percent or more of eligible CSP and EQIP applicants in FY 2015.”

Additional cuts to conservation programs “would leave producers without the resources to prepare for and manage the extreme weather events and natural resource challenges that they face each season,” the senators said.

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NSAC said it “strongly supports the position of USDA and the senators who signed today's letter. Funding for farm bill conservation programs should be dealt with by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees during the farm bill debate, and not opportunistically raided via the annual appropriations process.”

“Traditionally, congressional appropriators deal only with annual discretionary funding, and not mandatory funding.” NSAC said. “However, there is a backdoor mechanism that appropriators have been increasingly utilizing to tamper with mandatory funding levels - Changes in Mandatory Program Spending (CHIMPS). CHIMPS allows appropriators to cut mandatory spending in order to free up additional dollars to spend on discretionary programs.

“The recently passed 2014 farm bill consolidated numerous conservation programs and cut conservation spending by $4 billion. Automatic annual cuts will reduce conservation funding by another $2 billion over 10 years. Yet despite these already extreme reductions, appropriators have continued to target conservation programs for additional cuts.”

The Appropriations committees in the House and Senate are currently considering funding requests from members of Congress, individuals and non-governmental organizations.

 

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