Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are proposing to slash funding needed to reduce runoff pollution from farms into the Chesapeake Bay.
The House Agriculture Committee released released a draft 2013 Farm Bill that would cut money for conservation programs that help farmers pay for the cost of fencing cattle out of streams, plant trees along waterways, and take other steps to create green filters to absorb pollutants.
Today (May 20, 2013) the Senate is scheduled to start debating its own version of the Farm Bill -- which also contains cuts, but not as deep as the House version.
“Bay area farmers throughout the six-state watershed have demonstrated their desire to continue to do their part for clean water,” said Will Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “But to do so, they need the federal government’s commitment to provide adequate resources. Any loss of funding will shortchange our farmers and increase costs for local citizens and governments.”
The bi-partisan Congressional delegation from the Chesapeake Bay watershed is advocating a more ecologically-friendly version of the Farm Bill, which funds a variety of agricultural support programs and is supposed to be re-approved every five years by Congress.
Earlier this spring, the House Chesapeake Bay delegation wrote a letter to the Appropriations subcommittee urging there be no cuts or any cap on farm bill funding for specific programs such as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. “Despite financial strain, states have met many of their 2-year milestones (for Bay cleanup) and we are beginning to see real progress,” the delegation’s letter said. “We must continue a strong federal investment to bolster state efforts.”
Federal support of cost-sharing programs with farmers to install runoff-control projects are necessary to reduce runoff of fertilizers and sediment and meet EPA pollution limits and the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
Agricultural conservation practices are the least expensive way to reduce pollution. Investing in these practices puts people to work and pays returns to local economies,” Baker said “We have made progress in reducing pollution but the Bay and many local waterways still don’t provide healthy habitat for fish, oysters, and other aquatic life.”
An environmental news publication called E & E Daily reported recently that the U.S. House and Senate are proposing different versions of the Farm Bill, with numerous amendments being offered by lawmakers.
The two farm bills are similar in form, though the House version would cut direct spending by almost $40 billion over the next decade (if sequestration is not taken into account), according to E & E Daily. The Senate version would cut spending by $24 billion over the same time period.
It always make sense to spend government funds wisely. But cuts to agricultural conservation programs in the Chesapeake Bay region would backfire. They would throw a wrench into the great economic engine that is the nation’s largest estuary, and shift responsibility onto much more costly methods of reducing pollution.
That would be penny wise and Bay foolish.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photo from Chesapeake Bay Program)