The Senate Appropriations Committee approved bills to fund the USDA, FDA and Army Corps of Engineers that steer clear of environmental issues addressed by the House’s versions of those same spending bills.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2019 energy and water spending bill with a rider to repeal the “waters of the U.S.” rule published by EPA in 2015, prompting criticism from Democrats and environmental groups. The Senate energy and water (E&W) bill approved Thursday contained no such rider.

The closest the Senate came to addressing Clean Water Act issues was a provision in its energy and water bill similar to one in the House E&W bill that would affirm CWA language exempting “normal farming practices” from permit requirements.

The energy and water bill would, like the House version, increase funding for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program, to $6.9 billion, $110 million above the current year’s level but about $300 million less than the House’s $7.28 billion.  

The USDA/FDA spending bill would allocate $425 million for rural broadband, on top of $600 million Congress made available for the current fiscal year. It also would continue a pilot program offering an alternate way of calculating payments made under the Agriculture Risk Coverage program.

In addition to the WOTUS rider, House and Senate appropriators will have to decide what direction to provide USDA and FDA regarding labeling of genetically engineered salmon. The House bill was amended to require that GE salmon comply with the bioengineered food disclosure law approved in 2016, which now is being turned into regulations by the Agricultural Marketing Service.

The Senate ag spending bill, however, would prohibit FDA from allowing “the introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of any good that contains (GE) salmon until the FDA published final labeling guidelines for informing consumers of such content.” Sen Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has probably been the most vocal opponent of GE salmon, as part of her efforts to protect Alaskan fishermen who harvest native salmon.

The committee report accompanying the spending bill directs FDA to submit a report within 60 days after the appropriations bill is enacted describing research that was conducted before FDA issued a rule in 2016 on how “added sugar" should be displayed on the Nutrition Facts label. Specifically, the bill seeks information on research “to determine consumer perception regarding mandatory ‘added sugar’ labeling on single ingredient products in which no sugar is added during processing, including pure maple syrup and honey.”

The committee report also “urges FDA to dedicate additional personnel to speed the review and approval process” for animal feed ingredients.

Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., highlighted the ag bill’s allocation of $2 million “for a pilot program to provide competitive grants to state departments of agriculture, state cooperative extension services, and nonprofit organizations to carry out programs to address farmer stress and suicide.” Baldwin cited difficulties faced by dairy farmers, in particular, because of plummeting milk prices.

Another $20 million in the bill would go to telemedicine and “distance learning services in rural areas … to help address the opioid epidemic in rural America.”

The Senate bill also would provide:

  • $2.73 billion for the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The House bill includes $3.101 billion for ag research.
  • about $1 billion for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The House version contains $998.4 billion.
  • $879.1 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The House bill includes $890 million.
  • $1.049 billion for the Food Safety Inspection Service, an amount almost identical to the House bill.
  • $3.8 billion for Rural Development, including $825 million in funding “dedicated for infrastructure investments in rural America,” according to the committee.
  • $2.97 billion in discretionary spending for the FDA, $159 million more than FY 2018. The House bill gives FDA $3.1 billion in discretionary spending.

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