When the Senate returns from the Memorial Day recess this week senators are expected to resume floor debate on the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 . More than 200 amendments are pending, some of which would help advance conservation and renewable energy and others which would undermine these priorities.
The Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954) would reduce overall spending by almost $18 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office . It would consolidate and reduce outlays for conservation programs (such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Conservation Stewardship Program , and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program ) by about $3.5 billion over this period, with most of the funding cuts occurring in the second five years. It would reduce the cap for total enrollment in the CRP to 25 million acres from the current 32 million. The bill also requires that farmers who receive federal crop insurance subsidies must comply with conservation plans, and it reduces existing federal incentives that encourage producers to plow up new land (such as native grasslands) for crop production.
In the energy title, the bill would provide $880 million of mandatory funding over five years for renewable energy programs (such as the Rural Energy for America Program , the Biorefinery Assistance Program , and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program ). The bill would extend eligibility for the USDA’s Bio-Based Markets Program to a wider range of renewable forest products, and it would expand the Biorefinery Assistance Program to support commercial scale production of bio-based chemicals and products, as well as biofuels.
EESI has encouraged strong funding for conservation and energy programs, as well as provisions to strengthen conservation compliance and protect grasslands. In a letter to the House Agriculture Committee , EESI Executive Director Carol Werner observed that strong conservation programs are essential for " improving the sustainability of the nation’s agricultural production, as well as biofuel production. Effective conservation programs must develop and expand in concert with agricultural and biofuel production to restore and sustain soil conservation, water quality, biological diversity, wildlife habitat, and a stable climate. "
In another letter , she observed that a strong energy title, with mandatory funding, " is key to creating strong, sustainable bio-based products and energy industries using America’s cutting edge technologies and working farms and forests. It can be a win-win for creating jobs and economic development, improving both local and national energy security, as well as reducing environmental pollution and harmful climate change. "
Conservation Title strengthening amendments include:
- S.A. 973 by Sen. John Tester (D-MT) to reserve 20.5 percent of Conservation Reserve Program land for state-run Conservation Reserve Enhancement programs.
- S.A. 979 by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to conduct a study of the economic impacts of extreme weather events and climate change.
- S.A. 1027 by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to protect honey bees and pollinators.
- S.A. 1058 by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to provide conservation payments for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
- S.A. 1049 by Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) to promote more effective and efficient irrigation and water conservation through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Conservation Title weakening amendments include:
- S.A. 1017 by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) to repeal the Conservation Stewardship Program.
- S.A. 1018 by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) to repeal the Forest Legacy Program.
Energy Title strengthening amendments include:
- S.A. 966 by Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) to increase the level of mandatory funding for bioenergy programs.
Energy Title weakening amendments include:
- S.A. 1016 by Sen. Mike Lee (UT) to repeal the Biomass Crop Assistance Program.
Another amendment of concern:
- S.A. 961 by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) to allow states to opt out of compliance with the federal Renewable Fuels Standard.
To express your views to your senators, you can call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.