WASHINGTON, DC - February 19 - As congressional leaders try to resolve the differences between the House- and Senate-passed farm bills, 60 House members today signed a bipartisan letter to House leaders urging them to support the Senate bill’s $5.1 billion increase in funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs. The House farm bill provided almost $5 billion for these programs, which help farmers improve water and air quality and enhance wildlife habitat
“Our farmers are eager to share in the cost of protecting our environment, but currently two out of three farmers are turned away by the USDA when they apply to participate in conservation programs due to insufficient funding,” said the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). The lead authors of the letter are Reps. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jim Ramstad (R-MN), Dave Reichert (R-WA), and Mike Thompson (D-CA).
“While $5.1 billion in new spending for conservation programs is still not sufficient to meet farmer demand for conservation assistance, it represents a critical step in the right direction,” the letter added. “If some of the House- or Senate-approved tax provisions do not endure through conference, it is critical that other offsets be found to ensure that the farm bill provides a minimum of $5.1 billion in new conservation funding.”
A leading environmental advocacy group, Environmental Defense, praised the lawmakers for sending the letter at a time when proposals are circulating among Senate and House conferees to reduce conservation spending.
“This letter demonstrates the broad, bipartisan support in the House for inclusion of a strong conservation title in this year’s farm bill,” said Sara Hopper, an attorney for Environmental Defense. “We hope members of the conference committee and House and Senate leaders will keep their colleagues’ strong support for conservation funding in mind as they work to finalize a farm bill that the president will sign.”
Despite the fact that both the House and Senate provided approximately $5 billion in additional funding for conservation, the funding is at risk because President Bush has threatened to veto the final bill.
“It’s important for lawmakers to work with the White House to get a farm bill done, but conservation programs shouldn’t be cut to make the math work,” added Hopper. “In a time of record net farm income and record prices for many crops, the nation can afford reasonable reductions in farm subsidies to get a bill the President will sign.”
The House members who signed the letter urging House leaders to adopt the Senate farm bill funding level for conservation programs are: Jim Ramstad (R-MN), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Ben Chandler (D-KY), Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Tom Allen (D-ME), David Wu (D-OR), Bob Filner (D-CA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Dave Loebsack (D-IA), Ron Kind (D-WI), Diana DeGette (D-CO), James Langevin (D-RI), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Mark Udall (D-CO), William Delahunt (D-MA), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Barney Frank (D-MA), Patrick Murphy (D-PA), Jim Saxton (R-NJ), John Olver (D-MA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Lois Capps (D-CA), Michael Michaud (D-ME), Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Paul Hodes (D-NH), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Rush Holt (D-NJ), John Dingell (D-MI), Gerald McNerny (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), David Price (D-NC), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), James Oberstar (D-MN), John Hall (D-NY), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Luis Fortuno (R-PR), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Chris Shays (R-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jay Inslee (D-WA), Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Tom Udall (D-NM), Michael Castle (R-DE), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), John Lewis (D-GA), Robert Wexler (D-FL).
For more information about farm bill reform, visit www.environmentaldefense.org/farms.