President Joe Biden released a fiscal 2022 budget outline Friday that includes a $3.8 billion increase for the Agriculture Department that is heavily directed toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making farms and forests more resilient to climate change.
The new spending includes an increase of about 20%, or $647 million, in agricultural research to develop "science-based and data-driven tools" for farmers, plus an additional $161 million to “integrate science-based tools into conservation planning” and to “verify carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas reductions, wildlife stewardship and other environmental services” on farms and federal lands, according to the 61-page budget summary.
Funding for USDA’s climate hubs — regional, interagency centers that were established by the Obama administration to assist farmers and industry professionals with information and advice — would get an increase of $40 million.
Another $400 million is earmarked toward helping rural electric providers to transition to clean energy, plus there is a proposed increase of $1 billion (to $6.5 billion) in loan authority for rural electric loans to further help with the transition.
The Forest Service’s budget for addressing hazardous fuels and forest resilience projects would be increased $476 million to $1.7 billion.
The budget document is basically a very broad outline of the president’s priorities and is limited to discretionary spending programs, which are subject to annual appropriations bills. The 2022 budget year starts Oct. 1.
Mandatory spending programs — which include commodity and conservation programs that are authorized by the farm bill as well as massive programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and school meal subsidies — are not included in the budget summary.
USDA’s discretionary spending programs — which include research, rural development, meat inspection and animal and plant health services — would be increased by 16% to $27.8 billion, up from $24 billion allocated for fiscal 2021.
Across the government, non-defense discretionary spending would be increased by 15.9% to $769 billion. Defense spending would be increased by 1.7% to $753 billion.
The proposed increase in climate-related spending at USDA is part of an overall increase of $14 billion that the budget proposes to address climate change across the government.
That additional spending is needed “to restore the capacity needed to carry out core climate functions, to secure environmental justice for communities that have been left behind, and to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate,” said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the spending plan.
The official said the budget request is designed to complement the $2.7 billion infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan, that was proposed last week. For example, the FY22 budget proposes an increase of $65 million for rural broadband expansion through USDA’s ReConnect program. The American Jobs Plan proposes $100 billion in additional spending for broadband.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that the budget "provides the resources to build back better, stronger, and more resilient and equitably than ever before. This is our moment to solve big challenges by acting boldly—to close the broadband gap facing rural America; to work with farmers, ranchers and producers to transform our nation’s food system and build new markets here and abroad; to protect and manage our nation’s forests and grasslands from catastrophic wildfires; and to ensure Americans have access to healthy and nutritious food."
But a top Republican said the budget summary was long overdue but offered too little detail. “It took the Biden administration longer than any other administration in the modern budget era to produce what is essentially a back-of-the-envelope bookkeeping exercise combined with a series of talking points and a troubling lack of transparency," said Missouri Rep. Jason Smith, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee.
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The proposed USDA budget also includes an increase of more than $1 billion to fund the Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance program.
The budget also seeks to help smaller-scale farmers by proposing a $74 million increase for the Food Safety and Inspection Service to "bolster the capacity of small and regional meat processing establishments and ensure safe food production."
Beefing up regulatory agencies also is a priority for Biden.
The Environmental Protection Agency gets one of the biggest boosts in the proposed budget with an increase of 21.3% to $11.2 billion. That increased funding includes $110 million to "restore critical staff capacity" and $1.8 billion for "programs that would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also delivering environmental justice and creating good-paying jobs."
EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the proposal "makes historic investments to tackle the climate crisis and to make sure that all communities, regardless of their zip code, have clean air, clean water, and safe places to live and work."
The Labor Department's worker protection programs would get an increase of $304 million to $2.1 billion. According to the department, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other worker protection programs have lost 14% of their staff over the past four years.
Biden is proposing a 13%, or $1 billion, cut in the Army Corps of Engineers budget, but Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense says that reduction is largely meaningless since presidents know that lawmakers will maintain the Corps budget to keep funding flowing to favored water projects.
Download the FY22 budget summary here.
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