Letter To Secretary Perdue on RCPP

PDF Version: Letter to Secretary Perdue on Regional Conservation Partnership Program 
Response from Secretary Perdue: Secretary Perdue Response Letter 

March 30, 2017

The Honorable Sonny Perdue
Secretary Designee
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700

Dear Secretary Designee Perdue:

The undersigned members of the Choose Clean Water Coalition are concerned about federal support for programs that are essential to maintaining and restoring clean water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For that reason, we are concerned about the funding cuts to the Chesapeake under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

There are 87,000 farms in the six-state Chesapeake region. Those that are well run protect their water resources and add much to our landscape, environment, and economy. We want to ensure that these responsible farms and farmers remain economically viable. Nutrient and sediment pollution from farms is by far the largest source of contamination in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Recognizing this, the 2008 Farm Bill established the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative that provided $238 million over five years to producers in the region to apply conservation practices on their farms that would help to restore and/or protect water quality.

All of the conservation programs under the Farm Bill, including the RCPP, are critical for both farmers and clean water throughout the Chesapeake Bay region and we support full funding for them. These programs are essential for agricultural operations to meet state and federal goals that address both farm health and water quality.

The Agriculture Act of 2014 (the 2014 Farm Bill) replaced several regional programs, including the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative with the RCPP. The RCPP was designed to focus resources on assisting producers to voluntarily apply conservation practices on agricultural working lands to improve water quality in high priority watersheds, such as the Chesapeake watershed. The Choose Clean Water Coalition supported this approach. The entire Chesapeake Bay watershed was designated as one of eight national priority Critical Conservation Areas, and we applauded that decision. However, the amount of RCPP funds that were eventually provided for this effort fell well short of what anyone expected a “priority” area to receive.

The five years of funding for the Chesapeake region under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative of the 2008 Farm Bill provided an average of $47.6 million every year for conservation practices that benefit water quality. During the first four years of the RCPP, the Natural Resources Conservation Service allocated a total of only $43.18 million to projects all, or partially, in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In addition, NRCS has taken 25% of each project allocation for “technical assistance and administration”, further reducing the amounts actually available to farmers. While we support using these funds for technical assistance, we do not support taking dollars which Congress intended for conservation and using them instead for “administration” or overhead. Recipients also have to provide a dollar for dollar match for the entire amount prior to the deduction of the 25% administrative fee.

This significantly reduced level of support for conservation has undercut the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) commitment to the Chesapeake. The $43.18 million over the first four years of the RCPP has provided 22% of the funds that were previously allocated to conservation in the Chesapeake region under the 2008 Farm Bill – an average of $10.8 million annually. Calculating the 25% for “administration” reduces the annual allocation actually available for conservation in the Chesapeake from the RCPP to $8.1 million annually. This is a much more dramatic cut to efforts by farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to improve water quality and habitat – and is only 17% of the funds delivered to the watershed for conservation under the 2008 Farm Bill.

These large funding reductions under the RCPP, as it has been administered, have resulted in a steep cut to conservation that is critical to maintain and restore clean water to the rivers and streams throughout the Chesapeake Bay region, and for the Bay itself. These programs are essential for the agricultural sector to implement the voluntary projects needed for clean water in our rural areas.

We are deeply disappointed that the RCPP has so shortchanged the Chesapeake region. There had been no shortage of applications by farmers in the six-state Chesapeake Bay watershed to apply for funds under the 2008 Farm Bill, and there is still no shortage of producers and others willing to act under the 2014 Farm Bill.

We strongly urge you to treat the Chesapeake as a true Critical Conservation Area under the 2014 Farm Bill, and to better allocate future funds to reflect that. USDA has an obligation under the voluntary 2014 Chesapeake Watershed Agreement, which USDA signed as a member of the Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay to help meet the goals of the Agreement and the RCPP should be its primary tool to obtain success.

Thank you for your consideration of this important request that is critical to clean water throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. Please contact Peter J. Marx at 410-905-2515 or peter@choosecleanwater.org with any questions or concerns. Thank you.

Sincerely,

1000 Friends of Maryland

Alice Ferguson Foundation

Alliance for Sustainable Communities

Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Anacostia Watershed Society

Audubon Naturalist Society

Back Creek Conservancy

Blue Water Baltimore

Cacapon Institute

Capital Region Land Conservancy

Catskill Mountainkeeper

Cecil Land Use Association

Center for Progressive Reform

Chapman Forest Foundation

Chesapeake Legal Alliance

Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage

Chester River Association

Clean Water Action

Coalition for Smarter Growth

Conservation Montgomery

Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania

Delaware Nature Society

Ducks Unlimited

Earth Force

Earth Forum of Howard County

Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation

Eastern Shore Land Conservancy

EcoLatinos

Elizabeth River Project

Elk Creeks Watershed Association

Environment America

Environment Maryland

Environment New York

Environment Virginia

Environmental Working Group

Envision Frederick County

Friends of Accotink Creek

Friends of Dyke Marsh

Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek

Friends of Quincy Run

Friends of the Middle River

Friends of the Nanticoke River

Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River

Friends of the Rappahannock

Goose Creek Association

Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake

Izaak Walton League of America

James River Association

Lackawanna River Conservation Association

Lancaster Farmland Trust

Little Falls Watershed Alliance

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper

Lynnhaven River NOW

Maryland Conservation Council

Maryland League of Conservation Voters

Mattawoman Watershed Society

Mehoopany Creek Watershed Association

Mid-Atlantic Council Trout Unlimited

Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper

Montgomery Countryside Alliance

National Aquarium

National Parks Conservation Association

National Wildlife Federation

Nature Abounds

New York League of Conservation Voters

New York State Council of Trout Unlimited

Natural Resources Defense Council

Neighbors of the Northwest Branch

Otsego County Conservation Association

Otsego Land Trust

PennEnvironment

PennFuture

Pennsylvania Council of Churches

Piedmont Environmental Council

Potomac Conservancy

Potomac Riverkeeper

Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Queen Anne’s Conservation Association

Rivanna Conservation Alliance

Rock Creek Conservancy

St. Mary's River Watershed Association

Sassafras River Association

Savage River Watershed Association

Severn River Association

Shenandoah Riverkeeper

Shenandoah Valley Network

Sidney Center Improvement Group

Sleepy Creek Watershed Association

South River Federation

SouthWings

Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning Council

Susquehanna Heritage

Trout Unlimited

Upper Potomac Riverkeeper

Upper Susquehanna Coalition

Virginia Conservation Network

Virginia League of Conservation Voters

Waterkeepers Chesapeake

West/Rhode Riverkeeper

West Virginia Citizen Action Group

West Virginia Environmental Council

West Virginia Rivers Coalition

Wetlands Watch

Wicomico Environmental Trust