WASHINGTON, D.C. — Agricultural advocates say the recently approved $1.1 trillion federal spending bill contains several provisions that are good for farmers.
The American Farm Bureau Federation supports the bill and issued an analysis of key provisions.
Farm Bureau supports the $2.7 billion allocated for agriculture research programs and the $49.14 million increase in funding to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The bill also includes a $740,000 increase in funding to help Biotechnology Regulatory Services address a backlog of product petitions.
Farm Bureau also lauds the allocation of $2.4 billion for rural development programs, a provision to include fresh, white potatoes in the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program and language to block EPA from implementing an interpretive rule many feared would increase regulations on farming practices.
Discretionary spending in the bill, at $20.6 billion, is cut by $305 million from FY 2014.
The omnibus funding bill increases the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting budget by 7 percent to $2.521 billion for Fiscal Year 2015. It also awards $65 million for the Forest Service to update its fleet of airtankers.
Forest Service spokeswoman Jennifer Jones said the agency submitted a modernization strategy to Congress in 2012, identifying the need to add 18-28 modern airtankers to its firefighting fleet.
Jones said the Forest Service will soon issue a solicitation for seven modern airtankers, which could be available for missions by next summer.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, said language was removed from the bill to fund responses to the largest fires through a separate disaster account, thereby freeing funding for other Forest Service obligations. He and Sen. Mike Crapo, also R-Idaho, plan to introduce a standalone bill to implement a wildfire disaster account early in the next session.
Spuds in WIC
For years, Simpson has fought a policy singling out fresh, white spuds as the only fruit or vegetable excluded from WIC — although program participants have been allowed to buy fresh potatoes from farmers markets.
Simpson, who inserted the WIC language in the House version of the bill, emphasized the WIC battle isn’t over, as the provision will end when the funding bill expires.
He hopes to persuade USDA to permanently update its WIC rules.
“I think many (USDA officials) realize the rule didn’t many any sense,” Simpson said. “(WIC) parents couldn’t buy potatoes in a grocery store, but they could buy them in a farmers market.”
He said a legislative remedy is plan B.
Simpson broke ranks with the rest of Idaho’s federal delegation in supporting the appropriations bill, though he had misgivings about some of its provisions, such as language increasing allowable contributions to political parties.
Simpson also laments that language he inserted in the appropriations bill increasing Idaho’s interstate highway truck weight limit to 129,000 pounds was stripped from the appropriations bill. Crapo supported many of the agricultural provisions but voted against the omnibus spending bill because of the way it was handled, said his spokesman Lindsay Nothern.
“He’s not going to support last-minute bills,” Nothern said.
Lemhi County Commissioner Robert Cope said 90 percent of the land in his county is owned by the federal government and doesn’t contribute to the tax base. Nonetheless, the commission is mandated to provide basic services to its residents.
Without federal Payments In Lieu of Taxes, which offset lost tax revenue to counties heavy in federal lands, Cope said Lemhi County couldn’t make due. PILT provides about 20 percent of his total budget.
The spending bill fully funds PILT at $372 million, including nearly $29 million for Idaho.
“In recent years, (PILT) has been fully funded, and that’s been a huge advantage for us,” Cope said.
Simpson hopes to implement a policy to permanently fund PILT.
Simpson also included language in the bill to block the implementation of an interpretive rule many in agriculture feared could broaden EPA’s authority over farming practices affecting water quality.
The rule would have “clarified” that seasonal streams are protected, under the Clean Water Act, which hasn’t been the historical interpretation. Simpson said the rule would have limited exemptions under the act for agricultural practices, though EPA officials insisted farm exemptions wouldn’t be affected.
Simpson said language to more broadly protect private property from EPA regulation by redefining waters of the U.S. failed to make it in the bill.
Kevin Lewis, conservation director with Idaho Rivers United, said U.S. citizens overwhelmingly support clean water, and Simpson’s provision “should have been debated in a public forum and not buried in an appropriations bill.”
Next year, Simpson anticipates appropriations will be approved separately from unrelated issues.