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The Farm Bill Is Chock-Full of Anti-Environment Policy Riders

Politics
Lance Cheung / USDA

By Courtney Lindwall

The hyper-partisan farm bill, narrowly passed by the House of Representatives last week, contains dangerous handouts to the chemical industry and Big Ag. If enacted in its current state, the bill would have serious ramifications for small farmers, biodiversity, public health and America's hungry.


Leaders in the Senate are promising a better bill that supports sound agricultural policies. Well, senators, here are seven lowlights in the House bill that deserve special attention. Get your red pens ready!

1. Weaker Pesticide Laws

The farm bill would bar local governments from adopting pesticide laws that are stronger than the federal government's—something particularly concerning, considering the Trump administration's penchant for delaying and rolling back public health protections.

2. Contaminated Drinking Water Sources

It would repeal the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies which waterways are covered by the Clean Water Act's pollution control and cleanup programs. The rule helps protect streams that contribute to the drinking water supplies for one-third of all Americans.

3. More Polluted Waterways

Companies would no longer need a permit to spray hazardous pesticides directly into waterways that Americans use for swimming, fishing, and drinking—even though this is precisely the sort of high-risk scenario the Clean Water Act is meant to prevent.

4. Toxic Giveaway

The bill would weaken restrictions on methyl bromide, a highly toxic pesticide that has caused around 1,000 documented human-poisoning incidents and contributes in a major way to the depletion of the ozone layer. Past administrations wanted to phase out methyl bromide by 2000, allowing its use only in emergency events. The current farm bill would more broadly define what "emergency" means.

5. Hungry Kids and Families

The measure unacceptably targets some of the country's most vulnerable populations, such as families dealing with food insecurity. The farm bill would restrict the available nutritional assistance under the SNAP program, commonly known as food stamps, and could cause nearly a million Americans to lose eligibility. It also would weaken low-income kids' access to fresh fruits and vegetables in their schools.

6. Wildlife at Risk

The Endangered Species Act currently requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service before approving a chemical that could harm protected species—a rule that helped ban DDT and bring species like bald eagles back from the brink. The farm bill trashes the requirement, putting endangered species, including pollinators like the rusty patched bumblebee, at risk of deadly pesticide exposure.

7. Goodbye, Small Farms

The bill eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program, which promotes whole farm stewardship and sustainability in rural communities. To add insult to injury, it would allow mining and drilling on lands in the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which is supposed to help preserve agricultural lands as working farms.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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