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Reflecting on Earth Day

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Earth Day is a time to celebrate, but it is also a time of sober reflection. There are serious threats to the planet, such as climate change. Earth Day gives us the opportunity to look at the big picture and how we can improve our environment.

This Earth Day, I'd like to focus on the Farm Bill, easily the most important environmental bill Congress will be considering this year. Everything from crop insurance to agricultural subsidies to critical conservation programs are tied into the Farm Bill. I have been working hard during my time in Congress to reform this legislation to save taxpayer dollars, better support farmers and ranchers, and protect the environment.

The conservation programs, which benefit farmers and ranchers, are one of the easiest of these issues to get right. Modern industrial-style agriculture has a tremendous impact on the landscape. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides, animal waste, and valuable topsoil clog rivers and streams and cause dead zones along our coasts. Meanwhile, conversion of land to agricultural production destroys the floodplains and wetlands that filter out much of this pollution, and also degrades important wildlife habitat. The goal of conservation programs is to help small and midsize farmers, who depend on the long-term viability of their land for survival, and who perform good stewardship practices that are not only economically viable but even beneficial. I have met no people who, as a group, care more about the environment than the farmers and ranchers in my state of Oregon. Yet too often they are not given the tools or resources to meet their environmental challenges.

The next Farm Bill should consolidate a variety of conservation programs and improve their efficiency, eliminating burdensome and redundant paperwork for farmers and ranchers. This would make it easier for small, family farms to get assistance instead of having a huge proportion of the available resources drained away to subsidize environmentally damaging practices of large agribusiness. It will provide flexibility for a local focus on conservation needs, and also shifts conservation programs to a performance based system. A reformed Farm Bill would support technical assistance to farmers facing modern-day challenges, including food safety concerns, water quality and quantity issues, and a public interested in more sustainable farming practices. I would also prioritize investment for our most pressing conservation issues to help farmers address the realities of a changing climate, transitioning off of antibiotic-intensive practices, and reducing pesticide use.

In the coming weeks, I will be introducing legislation to meet these goals and work to get it incorporated into the next Farm Bill.

Each of us should use Earth Day to reflect not just on where we are but where we're going. While everybody's personal agenda to live a little lighter on the land should include active support and participation, supporting a more environmentally conscious Farm Bill is important for today, and even more important for tomorrow.


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