By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent
WASHINGTON (DTN) --- The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council over the weekend praised the Senate passage of the fiscal year 2015 omnibus appropriations bill, while the American Soybean Association and the National Association of Conservation Districts had mixed reactions.
The $1.1 trillion omnibus package passed by the Senate today held several strong wins for the cattle industry. National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Bob McCan and Public Lands Council President Brenda Richards remarked on Senate Passage of 2015 Funding legislation:
"We greatly appreciate Congress' passage of this important legislation, which contained a number of critical provisions that will support the viability of our industry for the year to come," said McCan and Richards.
"The bill made a major step in addressing over-burdensome regulation from the EPA by withdrawing the Interpretative Rule as part of the Waters of the United States proposed regulation," McCan and Richards added.
"While not a complete fix, this is a critical step in addressing the strong concerns farmers and ranchers have with this regulation."
Congress is requiring the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the rule that was handed down last March regarding conservation practices that would be exempt from Clean Water Act provisions. The appropriations bill doesn't specifically block EPA from continuing to pursue the actual Clean Water Act rule revising the definition of Waters of the United States.
McCan and Richards also praised language that prevents the Interior Department from listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act for the fiscal year. They support the additional funding to continue sage grouse conservation efforts, saying the funding is important to prevent a future listing of the bird.
"Listing the sage grouse would take the most successful natural resource stewards -- ranchers -- off the land," they said.
"The bill also contained continued assurance on a number of environmental regulations," NCBA and PLC continued. Specifically, the bill prevents funding for the EPA to require cattle producers to obtain greenhouse gas permits for livestock and to prevent mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.
"The passage by both the House and Senate is a clear message that Congress supports our industry and is willing to put a stop to the overzealous administration and their attempt to take production agriculture off the land," they concluded.
The American Soybean Association thanked Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., for their leadership on the bill.
"This bill represents a mixed bag, with some ASA-championed programs receiving steady or increased funding, (and) other ASA-supported programs receiving cuts. It doesn't give us 100 percent of what we need, but it does recognize a significant number of our priorities by making investments in the projects and programs that soybean farmers use every day," said Wade Cowan, ASA's president and a farmer from Brownfield, Texas.
Cowan noted that the association is pleased with the increase in funding that the bill provides for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which was given a 3% boost in funding.
Additionally, ASA is very supportive of language in the bill that would withdraw the Environmental Protection Agency's Interpretive Rule on the Waters of the United States.
In the area of conservation, ASA is disappointed in the bill's further cuts to conservation programs on working lands such as the voluntary Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), as these programs have been proven effective in improving soil and water health, he said.
ASA also praised "significant funding increases" for waterways infrastructure. The group noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction account for waterways infrastructure was increased by $514.5 million above the administration's request, including $112 million in additional funding for Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) projects.
The bill also funds the Olmsted Locks & Dam Project with an 85 percent to 15 cost-share between the IWTF and general treasury. Previously, it was split 50-50.
The omnibus also provides $1.1 billion for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which is an increase of $100 million above the previous year.
The Corps of Engineers "fared well," ASA said, with a $921 million increase in its civil works account and a $47.5 million increase in the operations and maintenance account, levels that will help the corps in its efforts to maintain operations on the Mississippi River and other inland waterways and make upgrades to the aging infrastructure.
The language directing the Agriculture Department to report to Congress on how to make country-of-origin labeling for red meat compatible with both U.S. law and international trade obligations will establish a path forward on a fix, but "it stops short of the clear-cut fix that ASA is looking for as a member of the COOL Reform Coalition," said Cowan.
ASA also noted that USDA's Foreign Market Development and Market Access programs were funded at their previous $34.5 million and $200 million levels, and the Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole Food for Education programs were funded at $1.5 billion and $192 million, respectively.
Earlier, when the House passed the same bill, the National Association of Conservation Districts said the bill would increase funds for USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Conservation Operations account and for the U.S. Forest Service State and Private Forestry program as well as maintain funds for the Environmental Protection Agency's 319 Nonpoint Source Grants.
The group also noted that the bill "would remove the Clean Water Act's (CWA) Waters of the U.S. Interpretive Rule (IR) and re-emphasize CWA agricultural exemptions."
But NACD also noted that the bill makes additional cuts to mandatory farm bill conservation programs, including $650 million in cuts to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
"We're extremely concerned that Congress continues to cut from critical farm bill conservation programs," said NACD President Earl Garber.
"The 2014 farm bill already produced billions of dollars in savings, yet Congress continues to make cuts to important programs like CSP and EQIP. Further cuts to vital conservation program funding will hinder the implementation of voluntary, locally led conservation on the ground, putting our land and resources at risk for the future."
The appropriations bill also contains $2 million for research on the porcine epidemic virus (PEV), the Des Moines Register reported.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at email@example.com
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