Policy Update: Bipartisan Conservation Outcome Legislation Introduced in House and Senate
On Wednesday, March 11, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Glenn Thompson (R-PA) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation titled “The Farmer-Driven Conservation Outcomes Act.” The Act has two main goals:
- It directs USDA to monitor, quantify, and report on the environmental benefits (particularly carbon sequestration and water quality) of USDA conservation programs, such as EQIP and RCPP.
- It aspires to demonstrate the impact of conservation programs and ensure that “taxpayers are receiving the best bang for the buck,” according to Senator Capito.
In describing the new legislation, Senator Casey said that farmers “can and must be part of the solution when it comes to mitigating climate change and improving water quality,” and that “in order to be able to tell the story of farmers’ conservation efforts, as well as to demonstrate the return on taxpayer investment, it is essential that we be able to accurately measure outcomes, including metrics like how many tons of carbon farmers are sequestering in the soil… We also need to be able to evaluate and improve program and practice effectiveness to help farmers mitigate climate change, improve water quality and protect other critical natural resources.”
Specifically, the Act will:
- Authorize USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) and expand the Department’s ability to assess natural resource concerns through enhanced measurement, evaluation, and reporting on conservation program outcomes.
- Quantify the environmental benefits of conservation practices in order to better build upon and improve program and practice performance.
- Direct USDA to use up to one percent of funding available for new enrollments of Farm Bill conservation programs to support the measurement and evaluation process.
- Require USDA to report on program progress to Congress and to the public, provided that individual data is aggregated to protect personally identifiable information.
- Establish a National Technical Committee composed of individuals with relevant technical and scientific expertise to assist NRCS in monitoring and evaluating conservation programs.
- Authorize USDA to implement cooperative agreements with qualifying federal, state, and local agencies, universities and colleges, and NGOs to support implementation.