FOOD, CONSERVATION, AND ENERGY ACT OF 2008--Resumed -- (Senate - May 14, 2008)
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Michigan.
Ms. STABENOW. It is my great pleasure to join my colleagues today to speak about a wonderful bipartisan effort that took a lot of time and effort, a lot of energy, but we all come to the floor tonight to celebrate a very important food policy, conservation policy, energy policy to the country. And certainly there are many people to thank.
It is wonderful to see a member of the Agriculture Committee as Presiding Officer this evening. Mr. President, we thank you for your efforts.
I certainly have to thank our chairman. We would not be here without our chairman and his passion and his patience in working through what has been an extremely challenging effort but one that--pardon the pun--has borne fruit and vegetables. So we are very pleased. It was great.
I know Senator Chambliss is not here, but what a wonderful partner in all of this as well. I know he is somewhere in the building.
I wish to say to Senator Crapo before he leaves that it has been wonderful to work with him on issues related to specialty crops and conservation, and also his wonderful leadership on the endangered species legislation.
There were 250 different organizations, from environmental organizations to businesses, that all came together. That alone is a feat. So I congratulate the Senator.
Standing next to Senator Crapo, of course, is Senator Roberts, who comes with such passion and experience himself, having led farm bills. Despite his razzing me about cherries all of the time, and asparagus, we are going to get you healthy by giving you a lot more fruits and vegetables as a result of this wonderful bill.
So there are a lot of people to thank--Senators BAUCUS and GRASSLEY for their efforts on the Finance Committee, leading us. I am proud to serve on both committees, as is the distinguished Presiding Officer, who has been in a spot on both Finance and Agriculture to help bring this all together.
Also, we would not be here without Senator Conrad and the incredible knowledge he and his staff have in crunching the numbers and being able to bring us to this point in so many ways. So thank you to him as well and, of course, our House colleagues, Chairman Peterson and Ranking Member Goodlatte and Chairman Rangel.
I also wish to say a special thank-you to a gentleman I have come to call a friend, Congressman Cardoza, who was my partner on the issue of specialty crops in the House. I very much appreciate all of his efforts as well.
Of course, I have to say thank you to Senator Reid. We would not be here if our leader had not focused on this and provided the kind of leadership at the right times to be able to bring people together and to once again provide us time on the floor, when time is a precious commodity here as there is so much to be done. So I wish to thank Senator Reid for always getting the priorities right in terms of what is in front of us.
Then I finally, on a personal note, wish to thank two terrific, hard-working members of my staff: Chris Adamo, who has worked every part of this bill for months and months, and Oliver Kim, who did such terrific work on the nutrition title for me. So I wish to thank both of them.
This was not, as I said before, an easy negotiation. But we are very proud. I am very proud--I know we all are--of the end result. We have created new opportunities for food and nutrition, significant new opportunities. We have new investments in renewable energies--certainly important to jobs in the great State of Michigan and around the country as well as creating energy independence. We strengthened our research efforts.
I am proud to have led an effort that began with our research institutions, our land grant colleges proposing something called CREATE-21. We used that structure to be able to put in place a research structure to be able to focus more on the competitive research and other important changes in this bill as well.
We also put in permanent disaster assistance. Due to some weather very recently in Michigan, unfortunately, we may be finding ourselves needing some of the disaster assistance for some of our specialty crops. I am hopeful we will not but, weather being what it is, having a permanent disaster assistance program is very important. I think it is important to have it paid for and have it part of our policy. So I am pleased we have that as well.
There is also an incredible conservation title that is in this bill, as well as rural development and, of course, our support for our Nation's farmers, while at the same time we achieve significant reforms.
When you put it all together, it is an incredible picture of many pieces coming together to create the right kind of values and priorities and the right kind of policy. I hope we will pass this conference report as we passed the original Senate farm bill and as the House has passed the conference report with an overwhelming majority. We will then send a very strong message to the White House that we have incredibly strong bipartisan support, and we are hopeful, in fact, that we will see the same support in the end from the White House. Even though we have certainly received comments to the contrary, we hope we will send a very strong message and that they will come together and join with us and the overwhelming number of Members who have worked so hard and supported this policy.
We have agreed on a monetary framework that has been talked about before that is $10 billion above the baseline, above the last farm bill. We actually started with fewer dollars, $58 billion less than last time because of commodity prices and so on. So there has been a lot of work on the financial side to have a way for us to be able to create some new investments. And it is significant that those investments were done not by raising revenue or raising taxes but by making reforms, by making changes within farm policy. That is very significant.
I think it is also a credit to everyone involved that the $10 billion in new spending all goes to food and nutrition programs--all of it; in fact, a little bit more than that, $10.35 billion. That is extremely significant in terms of where our values and priorities are.
It is important as well to indicate, as colleagues have, that 73 percent of the farm bill goes to food and nutrition programs for America's families, primarily through the Food Stamp Program but through other critical programs as well.
I can tell you, coming from Michigan, where we have been hard hit as it relates to the economy and what has happened in the global economy to manufacturing and so on, we have a lot of folks who never thought they would need help, a lot of folks who have worked hard their whole lives and have lost their jobs and now find themselves in a situation that, in order to feed their families, they need some help. They paid taxes their whole lives, and now they are in a situation where they need to have some assistance. In fact, we have one out of eight people--one out of eight--in Michigan today who is eligible for food stamps because of the recession and the economy. I am proud we have recognized the fact that we need to make sure in America that food assistance is available at times of hardship when families need it.
We have also talked about other programs. In the nutrition title, the school snack program is also critical in terms of supporting our fruit and vegetables growers. We are talking about expanding a program so that children in schools all across Michigan and all across the country will have the ability, rather than going to the vending machines, to be able to have a fresh apple, fresh blueberries, fresh strawberries, plums, asparagus, celery, be able to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, which we know is so important for their own health and growth as well as a way to support our growers. With this program, 81,000 Michigan students will be able to receive fresh fruits and vegetables as a result of the policies we have set up.
There are also emergency food programs, community food banks, seniors' farmers markets to be able to allow senior citizens to have coupons to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. This is very significant.
I wish to also mention and say a special personal thank-you to a member of my family who has advocated so strongly for these food programs, my daughter Michelle, who works for the Capital Area Community Services office in Lansing, MI. She works with low-income families and seniors every day. On more than one occasion, I have been e-mailed while we were working on the farm bill, with my daughter expressing great concern about the small number of items available for senior citizens when they come in once a month for food. She is giving me lists of two potatoes, dried milk, rice, small little lists, and then she says, ``Mom, these are seniors. Can't we do better than this?'' Well, I am proud to say that with what we are doing here now, we are going to be able to do better than that. I think personally there is something wrong when we have these senior programs and they can't get fresh milk or bread, which is not part of those programs. So I wish to thank Michelle for pushing and pushing me to remember what it is like for people who are having to live under the funding and the policies we put forward.
There are many titles of the farm bill. Every title is significant. Every title affects Michigan. I come from a State that everybody thinks of as automobiles. And we are proud of our auto heritage, our manufacturing heritage, but our No. 2 industry is agriculture. We have more diversity of crops than any other State but California, and we are very proud of that as well. And while our specialty crops--our fruit and vegetable growers--are over half of what we grow, we also have corn and soybeans and sugar beets and livestock and milk as major components of Michigan agriculture.
I am proud to have helped author this bill, which maintains a strong safety net and improves policies for all of our farmers and our ranchers. Michigan is rural in many ways. Around Michigan, up north, the Upper Peninsula, all of Michigan, we benefit greatly by the rural development title. I do not think there is a community in Michigan that has not, in some way, benefited by the rural development title.
I am very excited about the energy title and what we have been able to do. The energy title really is not only about supporting growers but about creating economic opportunities, jobs, and also addressing the issue of gas prices and dependence on foreign oil. With billions of dollars in new money for both titles, I know we can help grow jobs as well as grow sources of energy--both incredibly important.
One of the most significant energy policies is the new cellulosic ethanol tax credits. I know that our Presiding Officer has been a very strong proponent of this as well. This tax incentive will build upon corn ethanol, with new cellulosic-based fuels that can be made with a variety of organic sources such as wood, with the great woods of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, to switchgrass or agricultural waste. These new sources of ethanol will also alleviate the burden on corn and food prices, as we know.
Furthermore, in Michigan, this new tax credit will provide certainty and an incentive for investors like Mascoma, which is a partner with General Motors on a cellulosic ethanol project; New Page, which is in the Upper Peninsula and is partnering now to create commercially produced cellulosic ethanol and, again, jobs in Michigan.
The farm bill also has one of our Federal Government's strongest environmental investments, something that I know, among many passions, has been the passion of our chairman, and we would not have the conservation title we have if it were not for our chairman.
This is significant for natural resources across the Nation, but in Michigan it is really crucial, not only to our farmers who use the conservation title, but we have any number of ways, whether it is preserving wetlands or whether it is focusing on water quality or wildlife in the Great Lakes. This is extremely important to us, protecting land and open spaces. Overall, the $4 billion in new spending for conservation is vital for us in wetlands, grasslands, forests, and maintaining some of our best stewards of the land, our farmers and our ranchers.
I am extremely pleased to have included language that makes it clear that we can use dollars from the conservation title to focus on soil erosion, runoff, and other issues that address the challenges of our Great Lakes, a very important national resource.
Of course I am especially proud of the new farm bill specialty crop title. I think my colleagues have gotten tired of me talking about specialty crops, but I am very grateful for the fact that half of the growers in the country, half of our cash receipts in the country come from what are called specialty crops, fruits and vegetable growers, other specialty items, and they have not had a place in other farm bills in our history. So I thank the chairman again for working with me to create the specialty crop title. These are growers who have not asked for direct payments, but they do ask that we recognize and support them to be successful in a number of areas.
They have unique and significant challenges with pests and disease, with trade barriers, with marketing, disaster relief, the need for research. We know there are important things we can do to support fruit and vegetable growers. We have all together, counting disaster assistance, a little over $3 billion that will go toward the area of specialty crops. I have to say that when we started this process, we put together a bipartisan letter with 36 Members of the Senate asking, in fact, that we invest $3.3 billion in specialty crops. We pretty much hit that number at the end of the process. I am very grateful to all colleagues who joined together in that effort.
These new funds will help the Nation and Michigan. For example, Michigan orchards will benefit from competitive research grants that will provide much needed support for efforts to research alternative pesticides and solutions for new diseases. This is incredibly important because the FDA zero tolerance policy for insect and larva in fruit is something our growers have to address. Alternative pesticides have to be found by 2012 to allow cherries and apples to continue to be marketed in the United States. This is a very real challenge, and this bill will help them address that. The cherry industry has invested millions of its own dollars in partnering with my alma mater, Michigan State University. This partnership will be in a very competitive position to tap into these new dollars for specialty crop research.
USDA's ability to aid growers in times of surplus has been strengthened significantly by this title. The addition of value-added products to section 32, our commodity purchase program, will be of great help to Michigan growers. Our cherry growers, for example, in fact had a surplus year and a promised $8.1 million purchase is coming soon. It is helpful to know in the future this program will be stronger and even better.
Finally, let me stress the fruit and vegetable snack program. Michigan's dried cherries are the single most popular dried fruit served in the program, according to the USDA's own 2004 evaluation. This new market expanding the fresh fruits and vegetables program is something they are very excited about. There is no question this will focus on and contribute to the health and welfare of our children. There is much in this specialty crop package for both growers and consumers. I am grateful for colleagues supporting this effort.
Again, this is a bill that has reforms. It speaks to the future. I would say when we look at not only the safety net that is important for our growers, our ranchers, but when we look at new energy opportunities, food and nutrition support for our families, particularly now in challenging times, a major effort in conservation to protect our land and water, and to provide the ability to protect forests and lands for the future, rural development research, on and on, this is a bill that touches every family, not only those in rural America.
We specifically included some items such as community gardens to help those in cities who live in areas that unfortunately have been now dubbed food deserts, where the local store doesn't have fresh fruits and vegetables. It is not something they are able to get. But being able to support community groups to have community gardens so, again, fresh fruits and vegetables are available, is something that is part of this bill.
In every way, this is a bill deserving of a strong bipartisan vote. It is an example of a complicated process that people came together to work very hard on. I am very proud of Senate colleagues. We stuck together. We pushed very hard for what we believed was the right set of values and priorities. We were able to achieve it. I encourage and urge colleagues tomorrow to join with us in support of this very important bill.
I yield the floor.
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