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Farm Bill a Mixed Bag of Disappointments and Hopes
By Margaret Reeves
With last month’s death of the congressional Super Committee, so too died the 2011 Food and Farm Bill proposal that was folded into those fast-track talks. So what happens next?
A mixed bag of disappointments and glimmers of hope, the 2011 proposal now enters into the more normal process of policy development. Because of the tireless efforts of National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition members and many organizations around the country, this starting point for the 2012-13 Food and Farm Bill does contain some elements of our priorities—namely, support for conservation, local food, beginning farmers and organics.
2012 Funding Cuts Already Decided
It's basically a good thing that on Nov. 18 Congress agreed on agricultural funding (appropriations) ahead of and separate from the big omnibus funding bill that will consume most of legislators' time in December. But the spending bill includes some major disappointments.
Funds for 2012 include $19.8 billion in discretionary spending, which is $350 million less than last year and $2.5 billion below President Barack Obama’s request. More than $927 million was cut from mandatory conservation, on top of the $500 million already cut in 2011.
Overall, conservation and renewable energy were the primary losers, while commodity, crop insurance, export subsidies and food stamps were left untouched.
Deep Cuts to Conservation Programs
One of our favorite programs, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) was cut by $75.5 million, which will reduce by 30 percent the number of acres receiving support for innovative conservation practices. This is a tremendous loss.
CSP funds help farmers and ranchers manage, improve and increase conservation activities that result in environmental benefits on working land.
The scope and impact of the program has been tremendous. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture committed more than $191 million a year (in five-year contracts) to enroll 12.75 million new acres in 9,630 contracts across 49 states. Resource conservation priorities include protection of soil, water, air and wildlife habitat, including Resource-Conserving Crop Rotations that build soil quality and reduce chemical use.
Other unfortunate conservation program cuts include:
- 20 percent cut to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program ($350 million)
- 32 percent cut to the Wetlands Reserve Program and 25 percent to the Grasslands Reserve Program ($200 million and $30 million, respectively)
- 25 percent cut from the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and 41 percent from the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program ($50 million and $35 million, respectively)
Another travesty buried in the funding bill was a decision on fair competition and contracts regarding livestock and poultry known as the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration rule, or GIPSA rule. Among other failings, the final funding bill puts the burden on farmers to prove injury from unfair competition by packers and processors, without clearly definining what this means.
Good examples of these unfair practices were eloquently described in the 2009 documentary feature film, Food Inc., and in a Civil Eats blog describing how just four companies control more than 80 percent of the U.S. meat market.
A Glimmer of Good News
In recent weeks we saw the introduction of three good bills, all intended for inclusion in the 2012 Food and Farm bill.
- The Growing Opportunities for Agriculture and Responding to Markets (GO FARM) Act of 2011, introduced by Sens. Robert Casey (D-PA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), would establish a revolving loan program to support local farms and market gardens, helping to create agricultural jobs by connecting small farms with local markets.
- The Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), would help farmers and ranchers engage in local and regional agriculture by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing and distribution needs. It would also assist consumers by improving access to healthy food.
- The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act was introduced in the House by Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and in the Senate by Sen. Harkin. This bill would support economic opportunities for young and beginning farmers and ranchers.
We still don’t know whether this will end up being a 2012 or a 2013 Food and Farm bill. But we do know there will be further cuts proposed in subsequent appropriations bills, and that large-scale, well-coordinated, multi-sector public input will be vital in order to ensure that we get the most farmer-friendly and ecologically sane bill possible.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has developed a detailed analysis of the Super Committee kerfuffle and what lies ahead.
Here in California and across the country, Pesticide Action Network will remain engaged with partners and supporters to advocate for programs that promise to protect rural communities, family farmers and the health and well-being of those who work on farms and consume farm products.
For more information, click here.
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By Jake Johnson
As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.