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Senate passes $1.1 trillion spending package

Senate passes $1.1 trillion spending package
Spending package passes Senate, is off to Obama's desk. Seantors push for EPA to stop work on Waterways of the U.S. proposed rule. Agriculture advocates react.

Averting a government shutdown, late Saturday the Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending package on a 56 to 40 vote. The rancorous debate over the package largely centered on two provisions: Wall Street-backed changes to derivative trading rules under the Dodd-Frank Act and upping the financial limits individuals can give to political campaigns.

The spending package now heads to President Obama, who has already said he’ll sign it into law.

Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly claimed Section 179 -- used by farmers in dealing with equipment depreciation -- was part of the Senate spending package. In fact, the provision is expected to be included in a tax extender package that should be voted on before the Senate adjourns for the year.

Another facet of the Senate package dealt with the EPA’s proposed “Waterways of the U.S.” rule. Part of the Clean Water Act, the rule would have expanded the power of the agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to regulate on-farm water.

The Senate turned away the EPA effort with the spending package calling on the agency to withdraw the proposed rule. “A farmer’s field is not a water of the U.S.,” said Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer during the floor debate. “A farm pond is not a water of the U.S. An irrigation ditch is not a water of the U.S. But, there are overzealous regulators out there who disagree. We have seen the Corps try to regulate a family farm when the farmer tried to change from a ditch irrigation system to a piped irrigation system to improve water efficiency.”

Fischer allowed that the spending package “does not alleviate the concerns that farmers, small businesses, and local communities have with the proposed rule. This section will, however, ensure that the will of Congress to protect farmers and ranchers from burdensome 404 permitting requirements is carried out, and I will continue to do everything in my power to stop EPA from finalizing the proposed ‘waters of the United States’ rule next year.”

ASA, NCBA react

In a statement post-vote, Wade Cowan, American Soybean Association president, termed the package “a mixed bag, with some ASA-championed programs receiving steady or increased funding, while other ASA-supported programs receiving cuts. It doesn't give us one hundred percent of what we need, but it does recognize a significant number of our priorities by making investments in the projects and programs that soybean farmers use every day.”

In the area of conservation, “ASA is disappointed in the bill’s further cuts to conservation programs on working lands like the voluntary Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), as these programs have been proven effective in improving soil and water health.”

In a joint statement, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Bob McCan and Public Lands Council President Brenda Richards approved of the Senate legislation. “We greatly appreciate Congress’ passage of this important legislation which contained a number of critical provisions that will support the viability of our industry for the year to come. The bill made a major step in addressing over-burdensome regulation from the EPA by withdrawing the Interpretative Rule as part of the Waters of the United States proposed regulation. The rule, which attempts to clarify farming and ranching provisions under the Clean Water, adds uncertainty rather than explanation for landowners and threatens fines of up to $37,500 per day. While not a complete fix, this is a critical step in addressing the strong concerns farmers and ranchers have with this regulation.”

Further, said the duo, “the bill also contained continued assurance on a number of environmental regulations. Specifically, the bill prevents funding for the EPA to require cattle producers to obtain greenhouse gas permits for livestock and to prevent mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.”

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