U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (Both D-MD) today voted in support of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, which benefits Maryland's farmers and continues to provide a strong foundation for restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Overall, the 2012 Farm Bill made over $23 billion in spending cuts or more than double the agriculture cuts recommended by the Simpson-Bowles Commission. The bill passed the Senate 64-35.
"Farmers understand how valuable a healthy Chesapeake Bay is to our region and our nation. It's why I fought to preserve the Chesapeake as a priority conservation region and did not stop until we received assurances that the Chesapeake Bay Watershed will receive ample support under the 2012 Farm Bill's conservation programs," said Senator Cardin, Chairman of the Senate Water and Wildlife Subcommittee. "Restoring the full health of the Chesapeake Bay requires coordination among all sectors in the region. I will continue to work hard to provide Maryland farmers with the resources they need to continue their responsible efforts to conserve the watershed."
"The Chesapeake Bay is an integral part of who we are as Marylanders -- our heritage, our economy and our culture," Senator Mikulski said. "I'm proud to fight for the health of the Bay and to support the lives and livelihoods of those who rely on it. Through the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, we will sustain jobs and support Maryland's farmers with the tools and resources they need."
The 2012 Farm Bill consolidates the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative Program with a few other similar conservation programs into a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The structure of the RCPP emphasizes cooperation between producers and regional stakeholders to work together to improve the effectiveness of agricultural conservation activities by leveraging non-government funds in support of conservation projects. The RCPP also focuses conservation funds on regions with the greatest conservation needs.
Senator Cardin, working with Senator Mikulski and Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Jim Webb (D-VA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coon (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), negotiated with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) to increase the overall funding for the new regional conservation program, as well as improve the set-aside for "Critical Conservation Areas" like the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and solidify the Bay as a priority within the RCCP. In addition, Senator Cardin has received written assurances from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that the Bay will continue to be adequately supported under this new funding system.
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 Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Twenty-five percent of lands within the watershed are used for agricultural purposes. The economic value of the Bay is estimated to be more than $1 trillion, but that value is dependent on the health of the Bay's waters and fisheries.