Congress Acts to Preserve Money for Environmental Farming
WASHINGTON − The House voted Monday to protect aid to farmers who convert to environmentally sound practices.
The measure, now on its way to President Bush, would block the Agriculture Department from tapping some of the funding for administrative expenses. The USDA's use of program money for overhead costs farmers about $150 million a year that could help them learn farming methods that protect air, water and wildlife, said Environmental Defense spokesman Scott Faber.
"It's a terrible thing because we all want to help farmers when they want to help the environment," Faber said.
As many as 35,000 farmers participate in the environmental working lands programs every year.
The USDA has drawn some money out of those conservation programs to pay administrative costs of programs that encourage landowners to stop farming and set aside environmentally sensitive lands for preservation.
The programs get a total of $1.1 billion each year. Critics said USDA's actions cut 10 percent or more of the conservation programs' budget.
"They were robbing Peter to pay Paul, and the landowners who use these cost-share programs were losing out as a result," said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the Agriculture Committee's conservation panel.
The bill would require that the administrative costs be paid by Commodity Credit Corporation. The House passed the bill on a voice vote. The Senate passed the bill last month.
Source: Associated Press