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Cutting Conservation Programs No Way to Fight Global Warming

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Obama Budget Proposal Falls $700 Million Short of
Farm Bill Funding Promise

Permanent Damage Expected to the Wetlands Reserve Program

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2009 –President Obama’s proposed budget continues the long string of broken promises that have left conservation programs billions short over the past two farm bills. While the White House and the US Department of Agriculture rightly communicate that farmers are a critical component in the fight against global warming, their budget proposes to cut the very programs that can help them win.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) takes the biggest hit, falling $250 million short of the funding promised in the 2008 farm bill. (see Table). The unkindest cut of all is the proposal to permanently cut the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) by over 138,000 acres equivalent to a $350 million cut in funding for restoring wetlands, prime concentrated fauna for sequestering carbon emissions.

Decades of broken funding promises are a big reason why agriculture is a leading cause of pollution in U.S. lakes, rivers, and streams. Little progress has been made in reducing soil erosion since 1997; advanced soil, nutrient, livestock, and organic practices remain the exception rather than the rule in the United States; and wild lands are being plowed under to produce crops to meet increased demand for food and fuel. Agriculture has the potential to be carbon neutral, yet the Congressional Research Service reported that agriculture is currently sequestering only enough carbon to offset less than 5 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions each year.

“These cuts to conservation undermine the Administration’s goals of reducing global warming, cleaning up waterways, and restoring balance and integrity to environmental programs,” said Craig Cox, Environmental Working Group Midwest Vice-President. “We still have a long way to go to reduce soil erosion, water pollution, and declining wildlife habitat on agricultural land and global warming will make these long-standing problems much harder to solve. EQIP and WRP should be front and center in President Obama’s environmental program, not on the cutting room floor,” Cox said.

Now is not the time for backsliding on conservation promises.

Two important conservation programs do escape the budget knife. The Conservation Stewardship Program and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program are left intact. The Conservation Reserve Program is spared, but is already slated to shrink because of action taken by Congress in the 2008 farm bill, and acres have been expiring by the thousands. EQIP funding is increased to $1.2 billion; the annual funding level it was supposed to reach in 2005.

“Despite a few bright spots, this budget doesn’t even get us back to where we were supposed to be last year, let alone make up for the cuts conservation has taken every year since the 2008 farm bill became law,” Cox said. “If this budget stands, conservation will be short over $1.3 billion dollars after one more year of broken promises.”

Shortfalls in Conservation Programs (in millions)

Program

Pledged in Farm Bill

Obama's Budget

Shortfall

Percent

Agricultural Management Assistance Program

$15
$10
-$5
-33%

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

$1,450
$1,200
-$250
-17%

Farmland and Ranchland Protection Program

$150
$120
-$30
-20%

Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program

$85
$42
-$43
-51%

 

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.  The group’s farm subsidy database and related reports can be found at www.mulchblog.com.

 

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