Friday, June 22, 2012

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

~Virtual Newspaper for an Aquatic World~

Farm Bill

In a rarely demonstrated example of political bipartisanship, 16 Republicans joined with 46 Democrats and two Independents in the Senate (roll call vote list here) to pass a 2012 Farm Bill (see link to bill here). The legislation would cut more than $23 billion from the Federal budget deficit over a ten-year period, by eliminating direct payments to farmers and landowners, and replacing some of those eliminated payments with an enhanced version of crop and income insurance subsidies. The $969 billion bill would fund agriculture, farm and nutrition programs over the next five years. Farm Bill attention now shifts to the House, where its Agriculture Committee has announced a delay in consideration of the bill from next week, as originally-intended, until July 11, following the Congressional July 4 week recess.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) noted yesterday that the farm bill he plans to offer will have "differences" from the Senate version, but was generally congratulatory in his statement regarding the Senate's passage and its bipartisan approach. Such apolitical support for the Farm Bill is a more problematic venture in the House, where conservative lawmakers have expressed their intent to cut the food stamp (or SNAP) program much more deeply. You can read more news coverage on the Senate actions, anticipated House activity and other Farm Bill news, below. And for a thorough review of Thursday's Farm Bill action and where the Farm Bill stands now, see this synopsis.

USDA Mississippi River Basin Initiative Project Funding Announced
On Tuesday, USDA Secretary Vilsack announced the funding (at $8.4 million) of 23 projects in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin to protect Mississippi River Basin water quality under the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) MRBI (“Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative”). The projects are funded through NRCS’s Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative. A complete listing of the 23 projects and their funding levels can be seen here.

National Flood Insurance Reauthorization and Reform
Passage of the Farm Bill cleared the way in the Senate for it to consider S. 1940, a bill reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program, before the NFIP expires at the end of July. The bill, sponsored by South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson (D), was passed by the Senate Banking Committee unanimously on September 8, 2011. A Senate Thursday procedural vote to move on to the bill effectively placed full consideration of the legislation on the Senate's calendar next Monday.

On May 30 the House voted to pass H.R.5740, the National Flood Insurance Program Extension Act, by a voice vote, concurring with an earlier Senate action, and sending the measure on to the President for his signature. That action extended the authority of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) from May 31 until July 31, 2012, and gave Congress two more months in its years-long process of deciding on a long-term reauthorization and reform strategy for the debt-burdened NFIP; a program that provides insurance for homes and businesses in areas subject to flooding. The NFIP has been subject to legislative impasse on this issue since 2008, the last time a NFIP re-authorization bill was passed. Since then, Congress has passed 17 short-term extensions to keep the program solvent.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is pushing to fast-track consideration of the flood insurance legislation so the Senate can begin negotiating with the House over competing versions of a five-year NFIP reauthorization and reform. The House passed its version of the flood insurance legislation, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011 (H.R. 1309), last summer.

In what is setting up to be a prelude to the eventual House Farm Bill vote, the House Appropriations Committee this week (June 19) passed a USDA and FDA fiscal year 2013 spending bill, sending on to the full House for its likely consideration next week. The $19.4 billion discretionary funding legislation would cut $365 million from the spending levels in last year’s passed legislation and represents a cut of $1.7 billion below the President’s budget request. Here is the Committee statement that accompanied the bill's passage. And for those interested in all of the details, here is the complete Appropriations Committee report language accompanying the spending bill.

In a separate action, the House Appropriations Committee also approved a $28 billion Interior and Environment spending bill that included deep cuts to EPA program and to the Department of Interior's popular land and water conservation fund. Several riders attached to the spending bill would, according to the Republican majority's bill release statement "rein in various problematic, costly, and potentially job-killing regulatory actions by the Administration, including provisions related to the “stream buffer rule,” changes to the definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Air Act, and “silviculture” regulations."

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Farm Bill-
House Status
  • House Republican leaders want a pause to consider how to proceed on Farm Bill this summer; delay bill consideration
  • House Committee decides to not markup farm bill next week after talks with Majority Leader Cantor: an ominous sign
  • House Agriculture Committee Chair Lucas statement on Senate approval of Farm Bill
  • House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Peterson statement on Senate approval of Farm Bill
  • Farm policy overhaul clears Senate but farm bill faces acrimonious path in House as sequestration looms
Farm Bill Opinion
  • Cato Institute op-ed piece: "Will the House block the Farm Bill pig-out?"
  • Washington Post editorial: eliminated farm bill direct payments replaced by enhanced subsidized crop insurance system
Senate Activity
  • Senate passes massive farm bill by a vote of 64-35, as 16 Republicans vote with Democrats
  • Farm Bill rice and peanut grower amendment dropped for now; to be pursued in Conference Committee
  • Senate votes to link crop insurance coverage eligibility to farm incomes and meeting conservation rules
Agriculture -
Water Quality -
  • NY Times editorial: "Where Are the Clean Water Rules?"
  • Coast Guard: miles-long Mississippi River pollution sheen came from southwestern Mississippi storage tank
  • Op-ed on impacts of surface coal-mining operations on Eastern KY waterways: "EPA protecting our right to clean water"
  • USDA Mississippi River Basin Initiative funding announced for 23 nutrient reduction projects
  • USDA funding Sauk River (MN) watershed conservation as part of Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative
  • Leaf-litter study aims to narrow gap between existing methods of monitoring nutrient pollution in streams
  • University of Michigan forecasters predict second-smallest Gulf of Mexico 'dead zone'
  • NOAA-supported scientists: 2012 Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone could range from between 1197 and 6213 sq mi
  • Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approves series of water and wildlife bills; sends on to full Senate
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, etc.) -
Forestry -
  • BBC: Healthy forests key for green growth, says UN report (via @PeoplePlanet)
  • American Forest Foundation launches My Land Plan to assist family forest owners to map; protect; enjoy forests
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Emerald ash borers begin to wreak havoc on Louisville’s (KY) plentiful ash trees
  • Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approves series of water and wildlife bills; sends on to full Senate
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Louisiana legislation will direct Deepwater-Horizon-BP oil spill money toward coastal protection & restoration programs
  • $14.5 billion flood defense now in place around New Orleans, 7 years after Hurricane Katrina
  • Interior Secretary Salazar repeats administration's commitment to using BP money rebuild Louisiana wetlands
  • Congress hasn't decided on BP spill fines distribution to help Gulf Coastal restoration
Resource Extraction -
Federal Budget -
Other news-
  • Does "green growth" – an attempt to improve often destructive relationship between development & environment - work?
  • Harvard's annual State of Nation's Housing report says more sprawl is inevitable report link here:
  • River-oriented artists wanted for St. Paul MN-based art-science collaboration. Stipend! Apply by 7/9 (via @RiverLifeUMN)
  • Landscapes for People, Food & Nature Initiative looks to bring back dead rivers, barren landscapes; increase farm yield
  • $15M in federal funds to Memphis will in part enable people to bike along and over historic, scenic Mississippi River
  • EPA Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Program money to go to New Orleans, LA and AR groups
Political Scene -
  • New George Washington U study: How to communicate effectively with Congress (hint: email, don't meet)
  • Roughly half of nation's 7,383 state legislators could have 2 or less years of experience after 2012 elections
  • Poll: Nebraska state Sen. Fischer (R) ahead of former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) by a large margin for US Senate seat
  • GOP seeks to punish four vulnerable Mississippi River Basin Senate Democrats on EPA mercury rules vote
  • Missouri (August 7) and Wisconsin (August 14) US Senate primaries are among the summer's hottest races
  • Republicans in Wisconsin's 1st district pondering options if Rep. Paul Ryan ends up as GOP VP candidate
  • Former WI Gov. Thompson leads closest competitor in Republican Senate primary by margin of almost 20 points

Last Word - "That'll do pig. That'll do."
What better way to end a hectic week of Farm Bill activity in the nation's capitol than this quote from farmer Arthur H. Hoggett (played by actor James Cromwell) in the 1995 film "Babe."

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