McCain amendment could have lasting effects on conservation

10-18-2011 // Amanda Peterka

This excerpt is from E&E News PM (subscription required)

 Environmental groups are up in arms over an amendment filed by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain that could lower federal farm conservation spending by billions of dollars over the next decade.

The amendment to the "minibus" currently being debated on the Senate floor would strike a provision that extends farm bill conservation programs until 2014. By doing so, it would ensure that the $726 million proposed cut to conservation programs this year would be repeated each year in the next 10-year farm bill.

"It is a huge threat because it could affect funding moving forward," said Aviva Glaser, agriculture policy coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation.

It remains to be seen whether Senate leaders will allow a vote on McCain's measure. The Senate agriculture appropriations bill is one of a trio of bills being debated as a package on the Senate floor this week. The "minibus" legislation would set the fiscal 2012 budgets for the Agriculture Department; Commerce, Justice and Science; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

The agriculture bill proposes a 12 percent, or $726 million, cut to mandatory spending on conservation programs, which include the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and Environment Quality Incentives Program. These programs help farmers make environmental improvements on their lands and set aside acres for conservation.

McCain's amendment is meant to address a "flawed" appropriations process, according to a description of the amendment from his spokesperson.

Under a Congressional Budget Office scoring rule, the money appropriated for mandatory conservation programs in the last year of a farm bill becomes the baseline funding for programs in the next farm bill.

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