WASHINGTON -- The White House has agreed to supply less than 20 percent of the money requested by the Agriculture Department to support a major expansion of two farm conservation programs, prompting alarm from conservation groups and some influential members of Congress.
Following a congressional directive, the Agriculture Department asked the White House for $34.5 million this year to hire experts and provide support for two conservation programs. One helps land owners turn plowed fields back into wetlands, and the other pays land owners not to sell to developers.
Instead, the White House released $5.9 million for the programs, infuriating members of Congress who sponsored them.
"Maybe I should conclude that this administration does not support conservation, and this is the way they'll get at it -- they'll bleed it dry by not providing technical assistance money," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman at a hearing earlier this week.
Administration officials responded that they are committed to the goals of helping farmers restore wetlands and conserve open spaces. The programs will not be diminished by the reduced funding for technical assistance, they said.
But congressional staffers expressed skepticism that the government can provide the farmers with the assistance they need to launch their conservation efforts without more funding.
"Without money to pay for that work, it's difficult to see how they can get it done," said a Harkin staff assistant.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.