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I may not agree with him on much, but I do believe President Bush had it right when he chastised Congress for larding up the farm bill with unnecessary subsidy payments aimed squarely at a small, select group of wealthy individual farmers. A hodgepodge of bad policies and pork-laden provisions, there was very little to cheer about the 2008 farm bill. The only redeeming feature, I thought at the time, was a guarantee by the Democratic House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to include a number of "historic new investments" in a variety of environmental and conservation programs.
Boy, was I a sucker for being taken in by that empty promise. According to a new report published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the Democratic-led Congress may be on the verge of cutting out those very programs, while otherwise leaving the subsidy programs intact, in a blatant game of bait-and-switch.
But within weeks of the farm bill's passage, the Senate appropriations committee sent to the Senate floor a spending bill (S.3289) that would slash conservation measures by $331 million in fiscal year 2009.
Commodity subsidies that provide billions to the richest farmers each year remained untouched.
For every $10,000 in crop subsidies Congress sends to the most heavily polluting counties in the Corn Belt, just one dollar is spent on conservation. In the 124 counties that cause 40% of spring nitrate fertilizer pollution, the ratio between subsidies and conservation spending is 500 to one.
Under normal circumstances, this would already be considered a terrible idea. Now, with all the money and energy pouring into the growing biofuel industry -- in the process generating untold amounts of extra fertilizer and pesticide runoff (hi dead zones) -- this decision looks to be potential catastrophic.
As one of the few issues on which many eco-minded folks taken Barack Obama to task, the Congress would do well to drop its support for ridiculous ethanol mandates that are diverting valuable food resources from those who need them most and harming our environment. For a candidate who prides himself on bringing change to Washington, here's one issue on which he could do worse than to break with his Democratic colleagues, as EWG's Craig Wilcox puts it:
If the funding cuts for the environment stick, all of the Congressional leadership's claims of progress protecting water supplies and wildlife will be seen as bogus -- come-ons aimed at snagging votes and silencing skeptics of bloated subsidies programs. Congress must fully restore conservation funding to authorized levels. We can't afford more of the same.