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Farm Bill Harmful to Endangered Species and Conservation Fails in House

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The farm bill's historic conservation provisions are important for preserving grassland biodiversity, like this black-footed ferret and prairie dog. USFWS Mountain-Prairie / CC BY 2.0

A farm bill with dangerous consequences for endangered species and conservation efforts failed to pass the House on Friday, The Guardian reported.

The 2018 version of the major agricultural bill was criticized by environmental groups because it would have allowed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve new pesticides without assessing their impact on wildlife protected under the Endangered Species Act. The bill would also have cut funding for land conservation programs by $800 million over the next ten years.


The vote didn't come down to environmental concerns, but green groups see its failure as an opportunity to craft a better bill.

"The House just hit the reset button on the Farm Bill," Dr. Melinda Cep, senior director of policy for the World Wildlife Fund's Markets and Food program said in a statement. "Today's failure offers Congress an opportunity to reconsider a bipartisan bill that reflects the needs of America's farmers and ranchers."

"A strong Farm Bill includes conservation incentives to give farmers and ranchers more of a free hand in protecting those American grasslands and wildlife habitats that have immense environmental value, but little productive value for agriculture," Cep said.

As Rebecca Humphries wrote for The Hill, the farm bill has historically been the driving vehicle behind federal funding for private conservation efforts. Since 1985, Congress has added a conservation title to the bill providing financial assistance and education for farmers and ranchers to conserve parts of their lands for wildlife.

The failed farm bill would have eliminated the Conservation Stewardship Program, which the National Young Farmers Coalition called "the nation's largest working lands conservation program." The program provides incentives for farmers to use conservation practices like water-conserving irrigation. The coalition pointed out this would have been especially serious given drought conditions in 11 Western states.

The bill lost 213 to 198 after a group of right wing Republicans, called the House Freedom Caucus, opposed the bill in an attempt to force a vote on their preferred immigration proposal, authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte. The bill includes calls for a border wall, additional security, a crackdown on sanctuary cities, an end to diversity lotteries, an end to visas for family members other than spouses and young children and an extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, CBS reported.

Democrats opposed the 2018 farm bill because it included a proposal favored by House Speaker Paul Ryan that would have imposed stricter job training and job finding requirements on food stamp recipients. Democrats said the proposal would have deprived two million people of the food aid they need and was not funded well enough to be able to provide the job training it required of recipients.

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Protesters gathered outside US Bank and Wells Fargo locations around the U.S. to protest investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline on Dec. 1, 2016. This photo is from a protest outside US Bank in south Minneapolis, Minnesota. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

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."


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."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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