House Republicans yesterday lashed out against the Obama administration's proposal to ramp up funding next year for research on the effects of global warming on farmers.
The Agriculture Department's fiscal 2011 budget request includes a number of programs intended to address the potential impact climate change could have on farmers and ranchers. It would devote $52 million to climate change programs -- a relatively small piece of the $21.5 billion discretionary spending request.
But key Republicans in the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee latched onto those programs yesterday, indicating the array of climate programs across the administration's budget may be a target in the appropriations season. Climate programs were also a target at a separate hearing yesterday on the EPA budget (see related story).
Subcommittee ranking member Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said the climate investment at USDA may be a waste -- noting concerns about the science behind global warming.
"If global warming is real, then it is our biggest problem," said Kingston. "But it doesn't seem to be treated as science as much as policy."
Republicans and climate change skeptics have repeatedly called the science on global warming into question, especially after concerns late last year over leaked e-mails from climate scientists. The majority of climate scientists agree the planet is experiencing human-induced climate change.
The fiscal 2011 proposal for USDA includes $50 million for research on how the agency can help landowners adapt to changing weather patterns, increased fire risk and threats from insects and disease that may come with a warming planet.
USDA would conduct the research and make tools and information available to farmers through the department's extension network, according to the budget outline.
"We have ongoing needs to see how crop production might be influenced by extreme weather conditions," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the panel yesterday. "There could be an increase in pest and disease -- I think this is a valid reason for us to invest resources."
The budget also includes $2 million to help establish guidelines for how farmers could participate in carbon offset markets that could arise from a cap-and-trade system. The money would go to the agency's Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets, which also examines opportunities for water markets and wildlife preservation.
Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) said lawmakers should strip the funding, predicting that a climate bill and cap-and-trade system will never happen.
"This has not passed Congress and the hopes of getting it that done are probably not very bright," Latham said. "I wonder about these dollars being spent somewhere else."
The concerns from Kingston and Latham could indicate battles yet to come. Both lawmakers proposed amendments to fiscal 2010 spending bills that would have clamped down on federal climate programs.
Latham successfully added an amendment to last year's spending bill that gave a one-year exemption to manure management systems at factory farms from EPA rules requiring greenhouse gas emissions reporting. Kingston offered an failed amendment to the Financial Services bill that would have eliminated funding for President Obama's top energy and climate adviser and other "czars" in the administration.
Overall funding boost?
Also yesterday, Agriculture Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said she wants to increase federal investment in agriculture programs beyond the budget blueprint from the Obama administration.
DeLauro said she is uncomfortable with USDA's proposal to cut discretionary spending by over $1 billion. The budget would limit some farm bill conservation programs and crop subsidies as part of an effort from the administration to trim federal spending in light of the growing deficit.
"I harbor concerns -- particularly given the still-fragile state of our economy -- about the dangers of a freeze in discretionary spending falling disproportionately on our most vulnerable Americans right now," DeLauro said.
She praised increases in the budget for domestic food assistance and called for more spending on food safety, food inspection and international food aid. In total, the request would invest nearly $130 billion in discretionary and mandatory programs.
But Kingston said the government should do more to trim on spending -- reprising an argument his party has frequented since Democrats took control of Congress.
"I don't think it's enough and not a true freeze in light of the 26 percent increase in the last year or two," said Kingston.