Federal Update - May 2018

The House Agriculture Committee “marked up” and reported out a new 2018 Farm Bill (H.R. 2 - “Agriculture and Nutrient Act of 2018”) on April 18. The bill, developed by the Committee Chairman and other Republican members of the Committee, was viewed as a flawed partisan bill by Democrats. The bill was passed and reported out of Committee on a totally party line vote - 26 Republicans for, and 20 Democrats against. 

The bill still has to go to the full House for a vote on the Floor, and that might happen the week of May 7.

The vast majority of the $867 billion package goes to food and nutrition programs - e.g., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP - also known as food stamps). H.R. 2 included strict and expanded mandatory state workfare programs. Democrats expressed grave concerns about the process and the substance of the bill and refused to offer any amendments and all voted against the bill.

 

A few quick observations about the Conservation Title of this bill.

All in all the Conservation Title of the bill is better than many expected, but it still has issues. We have been concerned about the shortfall in funding for the Chesapeake under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for the past five years. Those concerns led to the introduction of a House and Senate bill (Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act - H.R. 4420 & S. 2139) targeting changes to the RCPP that would likely lead to more RCPP funding in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The major changes outlined in the Chesapeake Bay bill were not included in the House bill, but that was not a surprise. We have recognized that our major opportunity to forward the changes needed to better help the Chesapeake region rested in the Senate, and they have not acted yet. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are strong supporters and both serve on the Senate Committee on Agriculture - unfortunately, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) gave up his seat on the Committee a few months ago, but he is still heavily involved in efforts to coordinate Senate strategy.

The House bill has a baseline cut of conservation programs of $790 million over 10 years, although most of that comes from eliminating the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The bill puts some of CSP's current funding into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and eliminates the rest of CSP.

  • EQIP funding:
    • FY19 $2.0 billion
    • FY20 $2.5 billion
    • FY21 $2.75 billion
    • FY22 $2.935 billion
    • FY23 $3.0 billion
  • Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)
    • FY19-FY23 - $500 million annually
  • Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
    • FY19 - 25 million acres
    • FY20 - 26 million acres
    • FY21 - 27 million acres
    • FY22 - 28 million acres
    • FY23 - 29 million acres

 

The bill contains some funding switches for RCPP - increasing its mandatory funding from $100 million annually to $250 million, but it eliminates the 7% carve out from donor programs (e.g., EQIP).  This should keep RCPP funded at about the current level. There is a nominal improvement for RCPP to clarify guidance on reporting conservation outcomes.

There is a provision under conservation compliance that requires USDA to promulgate a rule for wetland compliance, which could weaken existing protections - though its focus is on the Prairie Pothole region. 

And all of that ignores some very bad environmental riders sprinkled throughout the bill, concerning the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and pesticides/Clean Water Act, among others.

The House is looking at bringing the Farm Bill to the floor in early May - possibly the week of May 7, and the Senate Agriculture Committee is also looking at marking up a 2018 Farm Bill at around the same time. There is not yet a public version of a  “chairman’s bill” that will be the basis of the Senate mark up. And the House is unlikely to bring the bill to the Floor if they are not confident they have the votes to pass the bill. At this time, we are working on getting stronger RCPP language in the Senate version of the Farm Bill.  

 

Peter Marx is a federal contractor at Choose Clean Water.