On December 6th, Environmental Defense applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for passage of S. 2856, legislation to protect working lands conservation incentives.
The bill will block the U.S. Department of Agriculture from diverting funds from four voluntary conservation programs to pay for agency administrative costs. The Senate unanimously passed S. 2856 in October.
In particular, Environmental Defense praised Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) for his dogged efforts to fight for the statutory "firewall."
"Frank Lucas has treated this issue like a dog a treats a bone," said Environmental Defense Water Resources Specialist Scott Faber.
Faber also thanked Sens. Cochran (R-MS), Harkin (D-IA), and Leahy (D-VT), who lead Senate efforts to enact the bill.
USDA has diverted more than $200 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Farmland and Ranchland Protection Program, the Grasslands Reserve Program, and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program to pay for administrative costs since 2002.
If the House had failed to pass S. 2856, USDA would have diverted more than $300 million in the coming fiscal years.
S. 2856 ensures that the administrative costs for two land retirement programs flow from the Commodity Credit Corporation, not from working lands conservation programs.
"This bill restores the clear intent of the 2002 Farm Bill," said Environmental Defense attorney Sara Hopper.
After the "firewall" provision was dropped from the $388 billion omnibus appropriations bill, House leaders moved quickly to put S. 2856 on the House calendar.
Most farmers and ranchers offering to restore wetlands and grasslands or offering to change the way they farm to improve air and water quality are rejected when they seek USDA conservation assistance.
For example, farmers and ranchers face a $3 billion backlog when they seek financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to improve water quality or wildlife habitat.
"These long lines only grow longer when funds are diverted," said Faber. "Thanks to Rep. Lucas, the long wait that farmers face when they ask us to help them help the environment will be a little shorter."
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