Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

By:  Debbie Stabenow
Date: June 13, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, first, let me thank all of our colleagues who are working with us as we move forward in putting together a package of amendments to be voted on here in the Senate. I want to thank everyone--of course my ranking member, Senator ROBERTS, but also people on both sides who are working together in good faith as we move through this process.

This morning, we did have two votes, and in the next little while we will have two more. And I do want to speak to one of those but also to just indicate again to all of our colleagues how important it is to farmers and ranchers, families, and rural communities across America that we come together and pass this farm bill.

Sixteen million people have jobs related to agriculture. I am not sure there is any one single piece of legislation we have had in front of us that actually impacted 16 million people like this one. Of course, we are very proud of the way we have come together in a bipartisan way to propose something that actually cuts the deficit by over $23 billion and creates real reforms that taxpayers and farmers have asked for, while strengthening our risk-management tools for agriculture, conservation, other jobs efforts, certainly rural development, alternative energy, and certainly our support for families with their own personal disaster when it comes to putting food on the table during an economic downturn for them.

I want to specifically take a moment, though, to speak and urge my colleagues to vote yes on a motion to table Coburn amendment No. 2353, which would repeal two of the most successful conservation programs in the history of our country, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which we all call EQIP, and the Conservation Stewardship Program.

EQIP is on the front lines of production agriculture, helping farmers comply with regulatory pressures, and it has been very effective. It is the cornerstone of our country's commitment to voluntary, incentive-based conservation--voluntary--working with farmers, working with ranchers in a voluntary way, to partner with them to be able to provide ways to tackle environmental issues we all care about.

I would underscore the fact that what we call the farm bill is actually the largest investment we as a country make in conservation of land, air, and water on working lands--lands that are owned by the private sector, partnering, because we all have a stake in runoff and clean water issues and erosion issues and all of the other things that relate to protecting our wildlife and our wetlands for not only habitats but also for our hunters and fishermen and all of the other issues around which we celebrate what we have been able to do around conservation in this country.

EQIP really is a cornerstone of our commitment to a voluntary incentive-based conservation program. It provides a cost share to farmers to implement practices that have been absolutely proven to work to benefit our country's soil, air, and water resources.

This last year the Environmental Quality Incentive Program entered into 38,000 contracts with farmers and ranchers all across America, covering 13 million acres of land. EQIP has a number of incredible stories across the country--in Louisiana, helping farmers recover from Hurricane Katrina; in Oklahoma, helping producers implement best management practices to reduce sediment in the Mission Creek, improving water quality, helping restore fish populations. In Michigan, they have helped farmers struggling with bovine TB protect their herds and livelihoods.

So this is one of two critical conservation programs that would be repealed by this amendment. The other one is the Conservation Stewardship Program. This encourages higher levels of conservation across agricultural operations as well as the adoption of new and emerging conservation practices. CSP encourages producers to address resource concerns by undertaking additional conservation activities and improving and maintaining their current activities. And they focus on seven resource concerns as well as energy--soil quality, soil erosion, water quality, water quantity, air quality, plant resources, and animal resources--all things important not only for our farmers and ranchers but to all of us--every community, every State, all of us in the country.

This program is extremely popular. It has been very successful. This year producers enrolled 12 million acres in the program, and this brings the total to 49 million acres across the country that now have conservation practices as a result of the CSP.

It provides conservation bankers with more acres than any other conservation program in the country. I strongly urge we table this amendment. I ask for a ``yes'' vote in tabling the amendment.

I would like to talk a little bit more about what we have done in a positive way in the conservation title. One of the areas of this bill I am most proud of is the work that has been done with conservation and environmental groups all across the country--in fact, we have 643 conservation and environmental groups that have said this is the right approach.

In tough economic times, when we know we do not have additional dollars, we took a look at every single page, every single program. There are 23 different programs in conservation. Every time somebody had a good idea, a program got added rather than looking at duplication, redundancy, how we can streamline and make it better for farmers, communities, better for ranchers, make it simpler and more understandable. So we decided to go back and do what every taxpayer and every citizen has asked us to do; that is, streamline, make more accountability, cut the paperwork, make things work better.

We do support flexibility. We support locally led ground-up voluntary efforts.
We increase transparency and accountability, we streamline, consolidate programs, help farmers comply with regulatory pressures, and we basically have come together. We have taken 23 different programs down to 13 and put them in three different areas and created a lot of flexibility. We want to stretch the dollars even further in four areas: working lands, easements, conservation reserve programs, and regional partnerships, which are so important to so many of us.

All across the country family farms are passed down to children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Our rapidly growing population demands our farmers and ranchers double their production over the next few decades and use fewer acres to do it, so innovation in farming is absolutely critical. But no amount of technology can make up for degraded soil or polluted water.

The farm bill's conservation programs help our producers meet their challenges and the country's challenges, ensuring that we have a safe, abundant food supply, clean water, and thriving wildlife populations for many generations to come.

It is wonderful to see the partnerships that are going on all across Michigan, all across the country. Many farmers take advantage of these voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs. In our Great Lakes region alone--I would say not only Michigan but our Presiding Officer from Minnesota certainly cares as well. We championed together so many times on the Great Lakes initiative. But in the Great Lakes region alone farmers use one form of conservation on 95 percent of the acres. On 95 percent of the acres we have conservation going on.

As we look at streamlining from 23 to 13 programs, making them more flexible and so on, we actually have been able to achieve savings of $6 billion while maintaining conservation functions, and I would argue strengthening their effectiveness as well while cutting the dollars. Nationally, there are 357 million acres of cropland, 406 million acres of forest land, 119 million acres of pasture land, and 409 million acres of rangeland under private ownership in the United States. That is a lot of land, and all of that is impacted by what we do in the conservation title of the farm bill.

We also know the challenges my farmers face in Michigan are different than those in Kansas or Oklahoma or Minnesota or Montana. We have built in enough flexibility in this new title, modernizing it, reforming it, creating flexibility to be able to meet very different needs across the country. I will briefly go through each area. We are focusing, as I said, on four different areas.

Working lands, where we have two programs that are proposed to be eliminated right now, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which I spoke about, and CSP is in the working lands title. We also include the conservation innovation grants, which are geared to projects that offer new approaches to providing producers environmental and production benefits. Again, we look for ways to support efforts that have not been receiving ongoing funding through the past bill to be able to continue and have greater flexibility in a number of different programs.

One is critical, I believe, for America's sportsmen and sportswomen; that is, access to good recreational land. I know that is very important to my State of Michigan, very important to my family.

The Voluntary Public Access and Wildlife Incentives Program encourages farmers to open their land for recreational uses--hunting, fishing, bird-watching. Right now, 26 States are taking advantage of the program, and we continue that in the bill, which is very important.

Our second area is on easements. There are three existing conservation easement programs. We are putting them into one to protect our lands from development and keep them devoted to agricultural use as well as to keep the land for grazing. Wetland easements restore, protect, and enhance wetlands which are important to water quality, quantity, and wildlife habitat in many areas also.

We are focusing on long-term land protection. Over the last 20 years the Wetlands Reserve Program helped more than 11,000 private landowners voluntarily restore, protect, and enhance wetlands and wildlife habitat. So we are very pleased all of this is in the bill as well.

The Conservation Reserve Program has been very successful. From 2006 to 2010 the USDA estimates the Conservation Reserve Program was responsible for reducing 1.09 billion tons of sediment, 3.1 billion metric tons of nitrogen, and 613 million pounds of phosphorus from going into our waters--that is an accomplishment--from going into our Great Lakes, into our oceans, into our rivers, into our streams. These are the main contributors to many of the water quality issues we face as a country.

During the same time period, USDA estimates the Conservation Reserve Program contributed 284 million metric tons of greenhouse gas reduction. It is reducing CO

2. I would say it is equivalent to taking 55 million cars off the road for a year. Coming from the car State, I appreciate CRP doing that. We want to be able to continue to drive our automobiles, and we are proud of what we are doing around automobiles, but can you imagine that this program alone has taken enough CO

2 out of the atmosphere to equate to 55 million cars being taken off the roads?

As of 2011, CRP was enrolling just under the acreage cap of 32 million. Over the next couple of years, over 15 million acres are set to expire. We recognize not all of those will be reenrolled, but we want to make sure there is adequate room to reenroll the most sensitive acres.

As an example of the effectiveness of CRP, last year parts of Oklahoma--I have a special affinity for Oklahoma. My mother was born in Oklahoma. My grandparents' family has lived there all their lives. I am very familiar with that State. Parts of Oklahoma experienced drought worse than the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. But we did not see dust storms like the 1930s because the voluntary conservation efforts--of the CRP in particular--worked to reduce soil erosion and keep the soil where it was supposed to be, which is on the ground.

There are huge successes we have seen because our country has made an investment in protecting our precious land and water and air. We also have established a new program called the Regional Conservation Partnerships Program which consolidates four very effective regional partnerships into one. I am very pleased we have been able to do this. There is great significance for Members in all parts of the country. We consolidate the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, and the Great Lakes Water Erosion Sediment Program. This exemplifies many of the principles of this title.

We focus on conservation efforts that are locally led, that are voluntary, and we create more flexibility and transparency for reporting as well as making sure we have adequate resources. When we were talking to producers and a variety of partner organizations, nonprofits--again, hunters, fishermen, other organizations--they were very excited about this new regional partnership title as a section. We appreciate all of the input and the support we have received to be able to make this effective.

Let me just say in conclusion that we have a conservation title that is supported in terms of its approach by almost 650 different conservation and environmental groups all across America in every 1 of the 50 States. They have sent a strong message. They worked with us. They know times are tight. They knew we had to create savings, we had to reduce dollars, but we had to make sure we had enough flexibility to do the job people across our country want to see done in protecting our lands, our water, and our air.

This has been achieved with a tremendous amount of hard work on the part of many people. I am grateful for the work of our committee and many others. I appreciate our subcommittee chairman Michael Bennet, who has been deeply involved in this as well, and the Presiding Officer from Minnesota as well. We have many people who feel very strongly. Our chairman of the Finance Committee who was on the Senate floor earlier speaking about this is another true champion around conservation. There were so many people in our committee.

I could go on and on about this, and on both sides of the aisle I might add, but if I start naming people I will probably get in trouble for missing someone. But we have strong people, strong advocates on both sides of the aisle.

I thank everybody for their wonderful work on this conservation title. I think it is an example of the great work that has been done in putting the bill together. Again, I urge colleagues to vote yes to table the Coburn amendment and the additional amendment I will talk about at another point that will be coming before us, and continue to work with us as we bring together the path forward to completing this very important bill that affects 16 million American jobs.

I yield the floor.


Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.