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Deal Breaker: How H.R. 2542 Ends Conservation Rules in Farm Subsidy Programs

Deal Breaker: How H.R. 2542 Ends Conservation Rules in Farm Subsidy Programs

How H.R. 2542 Ends Conservation Rules in Farm Subsidy Programs
Tuesday, November 7, 1995

Since 1985, agricultural lawmakers have defended payment of more than $108 billion in federal subsidies to farmers by arguing that the payments help to protect the environment. In order to receive subsidies, farmers must abide by soil and wetlands protections. This "deal" between farmers and taxpayers would be broken by the "Conservation Consolidation and Regulatory Reform Act" (H.R. 2542). As introduced by Rep. Wayne Allard (R-CO) and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), H.R. 2542 would severely, permanently and immediately weaken Federal farm conservation safeguards, though taxpayers will continue to spend billions of dollars on farm subsidies over the next 7 years or longer.

H.R. 2542 effectively repeals the conservation provisions of the 1985 and 1990 farm bills. It completely severs the link between federal farm subsidies and basic soil conservation requirements. It sets the stage for a major rollback of wetlands conservation laws. It forces federal taxpayers to become perpetual renters in order to obtain any lasting benefits from conservation spending. It shuts out the public from the oversight and enforcement of conservation programs.

In short, H.R. 2542 does to USDA conservation programs what "regulatory reform" did to health, safety and environmental standards. Not only would the bill weaken standards for soil conservation and wetlands protection, it would actually force taxpayers to subsidize soil and wetlands loss, while wasting a full decade of conservation spending.

As it is currently drafted, H.R. 2542 is silent on agriculture's main wetlands conservation program, the "swampbuster" provision of the 1985 and 1990 farm bills, which makes wetlands protection a requirement for eligibility for federal farm subsidies. A preliminary draft of the bill would have repealed swampbuster, completely severing the link between federal farm subsidies and wetlands protection. Although a repeal of swampbuster was not included in the bill as introduced, EWG expects significant weakenings of the swampbuster program during subcommittee and full committee markup of H.R. 2542.

Passage of H.R. 2542 would undermine the claim that the public is receiving any tangible benefit whatsoever from farm subsidy programs. Ironically, if H.R. 2542 removes a major justification for farm program spending, if will further undermine public suport for agricultural assistance generally. H.R. 2542 eliminates USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) as an independent agency.

  • No independent voice. NRCS' technical assistance and conservation compliance roles are put under the control of farmer-elected county committees under the Consolidated Farm Services Agency (CFSA). Only farmers can be elected to these committees, and only farmers can vote. (See H.R. 2542, Sec. 101.)
  • Fox in the Henhouse.Nationwide, more than 83 percent of all county committee members received farm subsidies over the past decade. Just over 8,000 county committee members were paid a total of $852 million over 10 years -- an average of more than $106,000 each. Nearly thirty-two percent of county committee executive directors (generally paid full-time staff) also received subsidies, totaling $19.9 million over 10 years. With subsidy recipients able to overrule USDA's technical decision-making, any objectivity in program administration would be lost.
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