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Panel preserves conservation, energy cuts

(Saturday, June 28, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Environment & Energy Daily, 06/26/03: The House Appropriations Committee passed a $17.01 billion fiscal year 2004 Department of Agriculture spending bill yesterday that cuts farmland conservation and energy efficiency programs more than $100 million below authorized levels.

Although Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee ranking member Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) expressed disappointment over the cuts, she did not offer amendments to restore the funding. At the markup, Committee Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) asked members to refrain from offering amendments that boost program funding levels without offsetting those increases with cuts to other accounts.

"This bill cuts $130 million from conservation," Kaptur said. "People interested in conserving natural resources on the farm did not do as well as they should have. And $63 million in renewable energy funding wasn't in there. We need to find alternative energy sources to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and the Agriculture Department has its head in the sand."

A spokeswoman for Kaptur said the congresswoman is not planning to offer amendments addressing these issues on the House floor because of the $17 billion cap on agriculture spending, but will instead work on increasing that discretionary spending limit.

The committee mark would provide a total $60.5 billion in mandatory spending for USDA in the coming fiscal year. In order to stay within the $17.01 billion discretionary funding cap -- which would decrease the FY '03 amount by $393 million and fall $136 million below President Bush's request, according to House Appropriations Committee numbers -- appropriators made cuts to farmland conservation, renewable energy and other programs.

The conservation program that would take the largest hit in the bill was Sen. Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) Conservation Security Program, which was slated to receive $53 million under the farm bill but would be eliminated in the FY '04 spending bill. Bush requested $19 million for the program.

CSP, meant to pay farmers for improving their ecological management of working lands, was approved for the first time in the 2002 farm bill, but has not yet been implemented by USDA. Although agency officials say they hope to get the program on the ground by September, they offered no guarantees at a hearing last month.

Another program that would fall below its authorized level is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which the subcommittee set at $975 million, down $25 million from the farm bill-level of $1 billion. EQIP, a popular program among livestock producers that has wide support in the House, would still receive $125 million more under the committee mark than the $850 million Bush requested for the program.