Budget bill includes $28 billion for historic climate-focused conservation efforts

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Working Group today applauds House and Senate leaders for including in the budget reconciliation bill $28 billion to tackle a growing backlog of farmers seeking U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Assistance for efforts to address the climate emergency.

“This is the biggest investment in agricultural conservation programs since the Dust Bowl,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “EWG applauds Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Chairman David Scott for proposing these historic investments in the budget reconciliation bill.”

Stabenow (D-Mich.) chairs the Senate agriculture committee and Scott (D-Ga.) leads the House agriculture panel.

The $28 billion budget proposal provides funding through USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP; Conservation Stewardship Program, or CSP; and the Regional Cooperative Conservation Program, or RCCP. All of the new spending would help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions or store carbon in the ground, based in large part on proposals included in the Climate Stewardship Act introduced earlier this year by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).

“The budget reconciliation bill provides a once-in-a-generation chance to make better farmland stewardship, not unlimited subsidies, our top priority,” Faber said. “Farmland conservation practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon also have the added benefit of reducing the amount of farm pollution that is fouling our drinking water.”

By every measure, the problems posed by farm pollution – like toxic algae blooms, high nitrate levels in drinking water and low-oxygen dead zones – are getting worse, as the nutrients and chemicals applied to farmland continued to wash into the nation’s rivers, lakes and bays.

Although Congress made important reforms in the 2018 Farm Bill, spending on USDA conservation programs did not increase enough to meet farmer demand. Farmers and ranchers offering to share the cost of conservation practices like buffer strips and cover crops continue to be turned away from the federal funding they need.

According to its own recent data, the USDA:

  • This year turned away 87,163 farmers with valid applications for conservation funding through EQIP
  • This year turned away 20,641 farmers with valid applications for conservation funding through CSP
  • In the past two years turned away more than 100 proposals offered through RCPP
  • Last year turned away more than 5,000 farmers offering to enroll about 420,000 acres of marginal land into the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP.

“The unfunded annual backlog for EQIP, CSP and RCPP is more than $2 billion,” Faber said. “It could cost an additional $2 billion to enroll the acres offered into CRP. Thousands of other farmers have simply stopped seeking funds after being turned away by the USDA again and again.”

After rising steadily in the past, farm conservation spending has leveled off in recent years. 

“Increasing conservation spending will reduce the backlog of farmers waiting for conservation assistance,” Faber said. “And it will help protect our drinking water supplies, provide more habitat for wildlife, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lead to more carbon being stored in the ground and help our farms prepare to better withstand the effects of extreme weather caused by the climate crisis.”

He said, “Spending more is just one part of the solution. We must also spend smarter.”

EWG’s extensive analysis of conservation spending shows the government isn’t doing enough to ensure that participating farmers adopt “the right practices in the right places.” Conservation funds are frequently used for on-farm infrastructure improvement projects and practices that mostly benefit farmers, not the American taxpayer or the environment.

“The fact that this proposal will exclusively fund practices that reduce emissions or store carbon is as historic as the scale of the investment that is being made,” Faber said.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.

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