Senate Committee Criticized for Cutting Popular USDA Conservation Programs by over $500 Million

July 15, 2010

(Washington, DC—July 15, 2010) Environmental Defense Fund criticized the Senate Appropriations Committee for cutting several popular, oversubscribed USDA conservation programs by more than $500 million late this afternoon. The programs cut include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, Grassland Reserve Program. The 2008 Farm Bill mandated a total funding level of more than $2 billion in FY 2011 for these programs.

The move follows a vote two weeks ago by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee to cut $270 million from next year’s baseline spending for the USDA’s largest working lands conservation program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). EQIP and other USDA conservation programs provide public benefits such as clean water and wildlife habitat.

“These votes fail to recognize the urgent need for action to conserve the working lands—farms, ranches and private forestlands—that make up two-thirds of the continental United States,” said Sara Hopper, director of agricultural policy for Environmental Defense Fund and a former staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Farmer demand for assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and other conservation programs routinely outstrips available funding. We urge Senate and House leadership to reverse these cuts to these critical programs that assist farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who want to improve and protect their lands for future generations.”

President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget also called for cutting more than half billion dollars from USDA conservation programs, including EQIP, the Conservation Stewardship Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program, Farmland Protection Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.

Last month, 17 conservation groups wrote key House committee and party leaders urging them not to cut USDA conservation programs to pay for an $8 billion increase in spending for child nutrition programs. While the current House version of the child nutrition reauthorization bill does not cut USDA conservation programs, the Senate Agriculture Committee voted in March to cut EQIP by $2.8 billion over 10 years to pay for a smaller $4.5 billion increase in funding for child nutrition programs.

“America’s working lands are essential pieces of the conservation puzzle,” concluded Hopper. “Without healthy, productive agricultural lands, efforts to improve water quality, protect wildlife, and curb global warming are doomed to fail.”


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