The Trump administration would pay for hurricane relief in part by cutting conservation and research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—an idea that's running into a roadblock from advocates for those programs.
In its $44 billion request for supplemental appropriations to respond to this year's storms and wildfires, the administration proposed to eliminate all $212 million in funding for improvements to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) buildings and facilities, as well as $1.4 billion from various conservation programs.
The chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), said through a spokeswoman that although appropriators will work with the administration on a relief package, "we don't support paying for it by using all of the agricultural offsets in the administration's request."
In its request, the administration noted that some of the agricultural offsets reflect funding decreases already endorsed by at least one chamber of Congress and that some of the money — including $204 million from emergency conservation activities — is left over from the responses to various events, including Superstorm Sandy, and is no longer needed.
The proposed cut to agricultural research buildings and facilities also appeared in the fiscal 2018 budget request; the House Appropriations Committee proposed trimming funding to $60 million, and the Senate version went along with the elimination.
The administration didn't reissue its call from earlier this year to close 17 USDA labs, but efforts to improve such facilities would be put on hold.
"Funding for modernization efforts can be delayed while still supporting the agency's core mission," the administration said.
Offsetting disaster assistance with the conservation dollars that are absolutely essential for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities to withstand these extreme weather events is reckless.
Final spending amounts for this fiscal year, which began 1 October, depend on legislation that Congress needs to pass by Dec. 8, when the latest continuing resolution expires.
Other USDA-related offsets in the hurricane relief request include $230 million from the Conservation Stewardship Program, which is widely used by farmers and other landowners, and $551 million from potential future agreements under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
Unlike other conservation programs, funding for RCPP goes to partnerships that propose specific projects and provide part of the funding, and farmers apply to participate. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) projected mandatory funding at $1.6 billion over five years, assuming no cuts to levels set in the 2014 farm bill.
The coalition, which advocates for the program, said cuts would be shortsighted.
"Offsetting disaster assistance with the conservation dollars that are absolutely essential for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities to withstand these extreme weather events is reckless and runs counter to the very real need for hurricane recovery support," said Alyssa Charney, a policy specialist at the NSAC.
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2017. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net