WASHINGTON — The Chesapeake Bay Foundation cheered Senate passage today of a climate change and clean energy bill that includes more than $20 billion for climate-smart agricultural conservation practices vital to restoring the Chesapeake Bay and its waterways.
Titled the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the legislation passed by a vote of 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote in her capacity as president of the Senate. The House of Representatives will return from recess Friday to vote on the package, clearing the way for President Biden to sign it into law.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Regional Conservation Partnership Plan (RCPP), and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provide farmers with financial and technical support to adopt practices that reduce water pollution, combat the effects of climate change, and improve soil health.
Practices include installing forested buffers near streams, rotating land where livestock graze, planting cover crops, and fencing livestock out of streams. Such practices are among the most cost-effective approaches to curbing farm runoff.
The Senate climate and clean energy bill includes $8.45 billion for EQIP, $6.75 billion for the RCPP, $3.25 billion for the CSP, $1.4 billion for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and $1 billion for conservation technical assistance.
All funds would be authorized from fiscal year 2023, which starts on October 1, through fiscal year 2026. The money would be available through fiscal 2031, however. The funds would be mandatory, meaning Congress would not have appropriate money to these programs every year.
Farmers in the Chesapeake region must come up with 90 percent of the remaining pollution cuts necessary to restore the Bay and its waterways.
In addition to improving water quality, USDA cost-share projects generate economic activity in farm communities. They boost local businesses and support jobs at lumber yards, tree nurseries, building supply companies, and for contractors. They also save farmers money. Healthier soil improves crop yields and requires less fertilizer.
Following the vote, CBF Federal Executive Director Denise Stranko issued this statement:
“Today we have cleared a major hurdle in securing urgently needed USDA funds to reduce farm runoff into the Bay and the local rivers and streams that feed into it.
“Farmers in the region have less than four years left to adopt conservation practices to achieve most of the pollution cuts still needed to restore the Bay and its waterways. Many are eager to do so but lack the financial or technical resources.
“Another $20 billion for conservation programs would enable USDA to make transformative investments in helping farmers do their part to save the Bay and reduce greenhouse gases with practices that also improve soil health, boost the local economy, and increase their bottom line.
“CBF deeply appreciates the tireless efforts of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to get this game-changing legislation through the Senate. We also thank Bay state Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Joe Manchin (D-WVa.) for supporting this bill.
“We urge the House to follow suit quickly so we can put these funds to work while we still have time.”
–Chesapeake Bay Foundation