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EWG News Release

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, February 10, 2005

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Bush Administration is paying some of the biggest and richest agribusinesses in America $17 million for cutbacks in their taxpayer-subsidized water supply. But an Environmental Working Group (EWG) investigation found that these same California agribusinesses — including the world's biggest cotton producer and the largest farm in America — already get hundreds of millions of tax dollars from other federal farm subsidy programs.

The Administration's decision to pay off corporate megafarms in the San Joaquin Valley, over the objections of California officials from both parties and the government's own water-law experts, is not just another story of a wasteful federal handout to big agribusinesses.

It sets a dangerous precedent for similar cases, including a $100 million claim by farmers in the Klamath Basin on the California-Oregon border that will be heard next week. And it represents a radical extension of a right-wing ideology that regards environmental protections as illegal incursions on private property rights. The farmers claim the cutbacks were a government "taking" of their property, but EWG's findings raise the question: Who is really doing the taking?

"It's hard to say which is more outrageous: the claim by these large and profitable agribusinesses that they own the water — which under the state Constitution belongs to the people — or the Bush Administration going along with the scam," said Renee Sharp, an EWG senior analyst. "It amounts to paying the farmers not to take more of our water, while they're already getting millions of our tax dollars to support their businesses."

EWG's report, Taking From the Taxpayers, available at www.ewg.org, details that from 1995 to 2003, farmers sharing in the water settlement received about $250 million in direct payments from federal crop subsidies and other programs. What's more, since 2001 the Kern County water agency serving almost all of those agribusinesses made about $40 million in profit by selling subsidized water back to California taxpayers at market rates.

The budget proposed this week by the Bush Administatration budget includes cuts in crop subsidies. Farm interests have already begun fighting the proposal by claiming it threatens their livelihood. But EWG's report shows that for many California agribusinesses who are reselling their subsidized water, crop payments are only one way they are underwritten by the taxpayers.

"This $17 million payoff is being spun by the agriculture lobby and property-rights movement as just compensation for struggling family farmers whose rights were trampled on," said EWG Vice President Bill Walker. "What is really is more corporate welfare for big agribusinesses who always have their hands out and never seem to get enough."

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