House panel’s farm bill draft slashes funding for conservation, energy programs

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, July 6, 2012

The House Agriculture Committee this afternoon released a 550-page farm bill that cuts more than $35 billion in mandatory funding from subsidy, conservation, energy and nutrition programs.

Committee leaders hope to mark up the package next week and move it onto the floor ahead of the Sept. 30 expiration of the current five-year farm bill.

“We need to keep this farm bill moving forward,” ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said in a statement. “There will be challenges ahead, but we will pass the bill out of committee next week and, if the House leadership gets this right and brings the bill to the floor, we will ultimately finish the bill in September.”

The bill makes many of the same changes as the 1,000-page farm legislation passed last month by the Senate, but there are significant differences in some policy areas and in the magnitude of cuts; those differences will likely be sorted out in a conference committee.

House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) called the bill a “reform-minded, fiscally responsible policy that is equitable for all farmers and ranchers in all regions.”

Like the Senate bill, the draft House legislation repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs. It eliminates direct payments for farmers that aren’t based on actual acres planted and consolidates 23 rural conservation programs into 13, a move that saves more than $6 billion.

While the changes are similar, the draft House bill proposes larger cuts to the Conservation Stewardship Program than the Senate version did. The program, one of the bill’s largest programs that rewards farmers for stewardship measures, would see a 30 percent reduction in acreage per year under the House bill, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

In what is expected to be a major point of contention between the House and Senate versions, the House bill proposes to cut more than $16 billion from the national food stamp program — well beyond the $4.5 billion that the Senate voted for in its legislation. Another sticking point will be the bill’s commodity title.

The House legislation also includes a measure that would overturn a Supreme Court decision that last year forced U.S. EPA to require new permits for pesticide users spraying over water. A bipartisan group of senators attempted to add the measure into the Senate farm bill in an amendment that ultimately did not receive a vote.