House farm bill cuts deeper than last year

Posted: May 13, 2013

Written by

Amanda Peterka, Greenwire
Corn field

The House farm bill would strip the Department of Agriculture of its authority to fund the installation of ethanol pumps at gas stations, as well as prohibit new permits that U.S. EPA requires for pesticides sprayed over water.

The 576-page chairman's mark, which was posted on the House Agriculture Committee's website this morning, is largely the same as the farm bill that the panel approved last year but that House GOP leaders never brought to a vote on the floor. Its cuts run slightly deeper this year, though, to reflect a new Congressional Budget Office scoring and the sequester.

House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has scheduled a markup of the bill for Wednesday. The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, whose leaders released their 1,102-page farm bill yesterday, will mark up its legislation a day prior (E&ENews PM, May 9).

According to a summary of the legislation provided by majority staff, the House farm bill would reduce spending over the next decade by $39.7 billion, with $20.5 billion coming from nutrition programs. Last year's farm bill would have reduced spending by $35 billion and cut about $16 billion from nutrition assistance.

Commodity subsidies and crop insurance under this year's bill would take a combined $13.9 billion cut, while conservation programs would be reduced by $6.9 billion over the next decade.

In general, most amendments that were passed during last year's committee markup were included in the House chairman's mark. It does not, however, include a contentious amendment by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that would prohibit states from banning agricultural goods from other states that are produced under different production methods.

As Lucas indicated earlier this week, the mark would provide no mandatory funding for the farm bill's energy programs and would reduce their discretionary levels by more than $500 million, the same level as last year's House Agriculture Committee-passed farm bill.

The bill "streamlines current programs, enhances program integrity and eliminates four programs that have outlived their usefulness," the summary of the bill says.

Included in the bill's energy title is language that eliminates funding for USDA to install what are known as "blender pumps" at gas stations, or gas pumps that can sell any combination of ethanol and gasoline. USDA has been using the Rural Energy for America Program to install the pumps partly to stimulate the growth of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, or E15.

There have been several attempts by congressional opponents of USDA's program to include amendments eliminating the funding to large pieces of legislation. The Agriculture Committee-passed version of the farm bill would have also eliminated the funding.

The farm bill mark would also eliminate payments for the collection, harvest, storage and transportation of advanced biofuel crops under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, as well as eliminate grant authority for demonstration facilities under the Biorefinery Assistance Program.

It would open up the federal government's bio-based procurement preference and labeling program to forest products, a change that lawmakers from timber states had pressed for in last year's farm bill and in stand-alone legislation.

Like the Senate bill, the House farm bill would create a tiered application process for the Rural Energy for America Program in an attempt to make the program more friendly for small and less costly renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

Unlike the Senate bill, the House mark contains a pair of provisions in its horticulture title that are aimed at providing "regulatory relief" to farmers. One would block a new permitting requirement for pesticide users who spray over water that EPA put in place following a 2009 ruling in the case National Cotton Council v. EPA.

Farmers and ranchers have complained that the new permit duplicates requirements under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Legislation eliminating the new requirement last year passed both the House and the Senate Agriculture panel, and has been reintroduced this year (E&E Daily, April 24).

Another regulatory provision would temporarily prevent EPA from modifying or canceling a pesticide registration based on biological opinions of the National Marine Fisheries Service or the Fish and Wildlife Service. EPA would not be allowed to change the registration until an "unbiased, external scientific peer review" of the opinion could be conducted.

"This is the result of extensive bipartisan oversight carried out between the Agriculture Committee, Natural Resources Committee and Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies in response to litigation challenging EPA registrations of pesticides wherein the agency had not formally consulted with the Services," the House farm bill summary says.

Environmentalist critics last year panned the provision as an attempt to leverage political support by taking swipes at EPA (Greenwire, July 6, 2012).

As in the Senate, the chairman's mark would consolidate the farm bill's 23 conservation program to 13 by combining some of the smaller programs or nesting them within larger ones. It would reduce the total allowed acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program, which USDA uses to pay farmers to idle their lands for conservation reasons, to 24 million acres. This is a million acres less than last year's House farm bill and reflects the changes in Congressional Budget Office scoring, according to majority staff.

The Conservation Stewardship Program, the farm bill's largest conservation measure that rewards farmers on a tiered basis for stewardship actions, would be limited to new enrollment of 8.695 million acres, slightly lower than would have been allowed under last year's House farm bill.

"The Conservation Title still provides farmers, ranchers, foresters and landowners with voluntary, incentive-based financial and technical assistance for conservation practices," the summary of the bill said.

The mark includes about $600 million more than the Senate version does for livestock disaster assistance over the next decade. As expected, the farm bill mark would not require farmers to comply with basic conservation measures in order to receive crop insurance subsidies.

The bill would boost the crop insurance title by about $8.2 billion and reduce traditional farmer subsidies by $22 billion, about a 34 percent cut, for a combined reduction of $13.8 billion in commodity and insurance subsidies.

It would eliminate four traditional subsidies, including direct payments that are paid to farmers regardless of how much they plant in a given year. In their place, the bill would give farmers a choice between coverage against reductions in price and coverage against reductions in revenue.

The Senate mark proposes a similar structure, an apparent nod to Southern senators who voted against the bill last year because it did not include price supports.

With the House and Senate commodity titles more closely aligned this year, the House's proposed $20.5 billion cut to nutrition assistance is expected to be the major point of contention in debates over the farm bill.

Copyright © 2019 Red Lodge Clearinghouse. All rights reserved.