Here’s another provision to watch out for in the national spending bill: $3.1 billion in disaster assistance for farmers in the wake of this summer’s (and, in many places, this winter’s) drought. Sounds good — but if the spending bill is approved, the money will come at the expense of a national conservation program. The brainchild of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the Conservation Security Program was approved last year as one of the very few environmentally redeeming components of the national Farm Bill; it set aside $7 billion to provide payments of up to $45,000 per year to farmers who use conservation practices on their lands. Now, almost half of that money will be used to provide drought relief instead. Many desperate farmers are willing to accept the compromise, but Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was critical: “The farm bill was never intended to cover natural disasters and the money shouldn’t come out of that.”
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