Why Environmentalists (and Every American) Should Reject the House Farm Bill

Friday, May 17, 2013


The budget-busting farm bill approved Wednesday night (May 15) by the House Agriculture Committee and its leaders Reps. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) is nothing but bad news for the environment. Here’s why:

H.R. 1947 Cuts conservation programs by $4.8 billion – The Lucas-Peterson bill cuts $4.8 billion – on top of the $2 billion cut inflicted by the sequester from voluntary conservation programs that assist farmers in all parts of the country and benefit consumers by giving them cleaner air and water. Right now, high commodity prices and unlimited crop insurance subsidies are encouraging farmers to plow up millions of acres of wetlands and prairies, and agricultural runoff is polluting rivers with fertilizers and pesticides. But the Lucas-Peterson bill would gut programs that help farmers protect the environment.

H.R. 1947 Increases greenhouse gas emissions – In particular, the Lucas-Peterson bill cuts the Conservation Reserve Program by 7 million acres without reforming the program as proposed by environmental leaders. Plowing up 7 million acres will release a lot of carbon into the atmosphere – as much as putting 2 million passenger vehicles on the road. In the last four years, farmers have plowed up 23 million acres of wetlands and prairie – an area the size of Indiana.

H.R. 1947 includes anti-environmental riders – The Lucas-Peterson bill includes riders that would gut common-sense rules that protect water and wildlife from contamination by agricultural pesticides. That’s despite the fact that more than 1,000 lakes and streams are already too polluted by pesticides to meet clean water standards. What’s more, the bill eviscerates protections against environmental damage from logging by short-circuiting environmental reviews and limiting public involvement in “critical areas.”

H.R. 1947 weakens the conservation compact – The Lucas-Peterson Farm Bill does not require that farmers who receive insurance subsidies adopt basic environmental protections, which is known as “conservation compliance.” In contrast, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s farm bill, which is far from perfect, wisely recognized that crop insurance is the primary way we support farm income and that this important quid pro quo between taxpayers and farmers should be extended to insurance subsidies.  

H.R. 1947 guts state food and farm standards – A last-minute amendment to prevent states from setting their own standards for farm and food production will do far more than block a California law that requires more humane treatment of egg-laying hens. This proposal will block any state from setting its own standards for how crops and livestock are produced, and it could invalidate more than 150 state laws.

Beyond environmental concerns, there are plenty of reasons why every American should also oppose the House committee’s farm bill. For starters:

H.R. 1947 cuts nutrition assistance by $20 billion – Hard economic times mean that more Americans than ever before depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) to get an adequate diet, and nearly half of them are kids. The House bill proposes to cut $20 billion in SNAP funding that low-income Americans rely on. More than 2 million Americans will lose benefits.

H.R. 1947 gives big farmers a big raise – The Lucas-Peterson farm bill would give every big subsidized grower a raise in the form of higher price guarantees for their crops – at a time when large commercial farms have average household incomes of more than $200,000 a year. The largest 10 percent of subsidized growers collect roughly three-fourths of all federal farm subsidies, so the Lucas-Peterson farm bill will give mega-farms even more tax dollars to help them drive out small family farmers.

H.R. 1947 expands crop insurance by $9 billion – Right now, farm businesses can get unlimited insurance subsidies. As a result, 26 of them collected more than $1 million each in 2011, and more than 10,000 growers collected more than $100,000 each. Rather than place reasonable limits on crop insurance, the Lucas-Peterson proposal actually expands those subsidies – at a cost of more than $9 billion!

H.R. 1947 has few incentives for healthy diets – More than a third of Americans are obese, and consumers have said that supporting healthy diets should be the top priority for this farm bill. But the House bill does not include as many incentives as the Senate version to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption by low-income consumers.

As we have noted, Congress could avoid any cuts to nutrition and conservation programs by making common sense reforms to the bloated crop insurance program. Modest reforms designed to limit who can receive insurance subsidies and the amount they can receive, combined with other sensible reforms, could eliminate entirely any need to cut programs that help the hungry and protect the environment. 


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