RL33556 - Soil and Water Conservation: An Overview
6-May-2008; Tadlock Cowan and Renée Johnson; 30 p.
Update: Previous Releases:
January 2, 2008
August 16, 2007
July 13, 2007
May 1, 2007
April 10, 2007
Abstract: Soil and water conservation topics are prominent in discussions of policy options for the next farm bill, which the 110th Congress is considering. Major conservation topics include where to set overall funding levels and levels for each program; what should be the priorities for the conservation effort; and deciding whether any existing programs or activities should be modified or eliminated and whether new programs or activities should be added to the effort. Addressing these topics often pits supporters of commodity programs and the traditional structure of the farm bill against those who would like to see an expanded conservation effort.
The House completed action on its version of the farm bill (H.R. 2419), passing it by a vote of 231 to 191 on July 27, 2007. Numerous options for conservation provisions had been offered as the legislation moved through the House, but the conservation title was passed as reported by the Agriculture Committee and modified by a chairman’s mark without further amendment. This legislation would increase overall funding for conservation and add a number of small new programs to the conservation portfolio while eliminating very little of the current effort. In the Senate, Agriculture Committee chairman Harkin has stated that he plans to release his farm bill proposal in September, and there are some indications that this conservation title could differ from the House-passed version in significant ways.
The current farm bill, enacted in 2002 and generally expiring at the end of FY2007, increased spending and expanded the scope of the conservation effort by reauthorizing and amending many conservation programs and enacting new ones. An example of increased spending was the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (funding was authorized to grow from $200 million annually before FY2002 to $1.3 billion in FY2007); and an example of expanding the scope of conservation was the new Conservation Security Program (CSP), which provides payments to producers who address natural resource concerns as part of their farm operation on so-called “working lands.” Implementation controversies arose over how to fully fund technical assistance in support of the mandatory conservation programs and how to implement the CSP. The former was resolved with legislation enacted in 2004 (P.L. 108-498), and the latter, implementing the CSP, continues as Congress has repeatedly limited funding and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the implementing agency, has responded by limiting program eligibility to specified watersheds, instead of making it available nationally.
Congressional appropriators influence the scope and scale of conservation programs annually. Congress is currently considering the FY2008 appropriations, which passed the House on August 2, 2007, and was reported by the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 19, 2007. FY2007 funding is being provided for the rest of the year under a continuing resolution. With one significant exception, conservation funding under the FY2007 budget resolution generally is similar to actions in FY2006 on appropriations, when Congress agreed to make cuts in several mandatory programs, while rejecting cuts to discretionary programs that were proposed by the Administration.