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Ahead of Farm Bill Debate, Booker, Lee Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Improve Conservation Program

March 20, 2018
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) Improvement Act, a bipartisan bill that would reshape EQIP to be more efficient and effective.

Started in 1998, EQIP is a voluntary conservation program in the Farm bill that provides farmers and ranchers with federal cost-share grants to implement environmentally-beneficial conservation practices on working agricultural land.

Despite this worthy goal, analysis of EQIP between 2009 and 2016 showed that  just 14 percent – or $600 million – of all EQIP funding went towards certain conservation practices that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) identifies as producing significant environmental benefits. In contrast, more than $1 billion – or more than 20 percent of EQIP funds – was spent on infrastructure practices that produce relatively little environmental benefit. The EQIP Improvement Act would address this imbalance by readjusting funding to prioritize conservation practices with significantly greater environmental and water quality benefits.

“EQIP is a critical federal program that helps ensure our farming practices don’t harm the environment,” Senator Booker said “Our bipartisan bill advances EQIP’s overarching goal by better prioritizing taxpayer dollars to support the most effective farm conservation practices, and by freeing up federal dollars to serve more farmers. With the changes proposed in this bill, we’ll see more federal funding go toward providing critical financial support to our small family farmers, all while better protecting water quality and soil health.”

“Farmers and ranchers know and love their land better than anyone,” Senator Lee said. “They are the ones best equipped to preserve their land and no government program created in Washington can change that. This EQIP reform bill will eliminate wasteful spending and give states more control over conservation efforts.”

Specifically, the EQIP Improvement Act would do the following:

·      Reduces from 75 percent to 40 percent the maximum federal cost-share for 25 practices that produce little environmental benefit.

·      Reduces the overall five-year EQIP payment cap from $450,000 to $150,000 to allow more small farmers to receive EQIP funding.

·      Ends an arbitrary requirement that 60 percent of EQIP funds flow to animal agriculture, giving more discretion to states to select the best projects for funding.

·      Requires USDA to prioritize practices that provide significant environmental benefits for water quality and soil health.

Supporters of the EQIP Improvement Act include:

American Bird Conservancy

American Canoe Association

American Rivers

Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Environment America

Environmental Working Group

Family Farm Action

Food and Water Watch

Fresh Energy

Friends of the Earth

Gulf Restoration Network

Missouri Farmers Union

National Taxpayers Union

Natural Resources Defense Council

R Street Institute

Taxpayers for Common Sense

Waterkeeper Alliance