U.S. Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today voted in support of the bipartisan Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, which will benefit Virginia farmers while continuing to provide a strong foundation for restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The 2012 Farm Bill, which saves taxpayers more than $23 billion, was approved with broad bipartisan support on a 64-35 vote today.
The bill consolidates the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative Program with similar conservation programs into a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which emphasizes cooperation between producers and regional stakeholders to leverage non-government funds to improve the effectiveness of agricultural conservation activities. As a result of the efforts of the Bay state senators, conservation funds in the RCPP for regions with the greatest conservation needs saw a significant increase. Senators Webb and Warner worked with Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE) and Bob Casey (D-PA), to ensure the new RCPP maintains the Bay program as a priority under this new system, maintaining efforts already underway through the existing Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative.
"The Chesapeake Bay is an invaluable resource to both the people and economy of Virginia," said Senator Webb, who has been a consistent supporter of Chesapeake Bay restoration initiatives. "This fiscally responsible legislation will provide benefits now and into the future for Virginia's farmers, foresters, and all those who depend on the Bay's resources."
"I am pleased we were able to come together as Bay state senators to fight for the Chesapeake Bay, supporting our farmers and the livelihoods of those who depend upon the Bay," Senator Warner said. "With this new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, we both sustain Bay-related jobs and continue providing Virginia's farmers with the tools they need to help conserve this important watershed."
During floor debate, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), highlighted the focus on regional partnerships. "That certainly is important to me for the Great Lakes but it is also critical for the Chesapeake Bay," said Senator Stabenow, and she thanked the Bay region senators "who have been deeply involved in making sure we get this right."
"Senators Warner and Webb, together with a handful of colleagues from nearby states, did an extraordinary job of restoring technical assistance and cost-share funding for Virginia's farmers that the Agriculture Committee tried to cut out," said Doug Siglin of The Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "Those funds will help more farmers manage polluted farm runoff, which in turn will help Virginia to restore healthy rivers and streams and the Chesapeake Bay. "
"The Farm Bill matters not only to agricultural interests, but to all Virginians, and I applaud the Senate's vote today. I want to thank Senators Webb and Warner specifically not only for supporting final passage of the bill but also for consistently standing up for conservation throughout several days of amendments," said Michael Lipford, The Nature Conservancy Virginia Director. "The Farm Bill's investment in land conservation and environmental stewardship are important for our economy and our way of life, from the Eastern Shore, to the Shenandoah Valley, to Southwest Virginia."
Identified as a National Treasure by President Obama and his predecessors, the Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, with a length of 200 miles and 11,684 miles of tidal shoreline, more than the entire U.S. West Coast. About 100,000 streams and rivers thread through the Chesapeake's 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to almost 17 million people across Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Twenty-five percent of lands within the watershed are used for agricultural purposes.
To view a copy of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, please visit the Senate Agriculture Committee website. A section-by-section summary of the bill also is available at the site.