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Friday, May 30, 2008

Farm bill and the Great Lakes

News release from the Great Lakes Commission

Contact: Tom Crane
Phone: 734-971-9135
Fax: 734-971-9150
For immediate release May 28, 2008

2008 Farm Bill important for the Great Lakes

Ann Arbor, Mich. – Passage by Congress of the 2008 Farm Bill (H.R. 2419) means some good news for the Great Lakes. Provisions of the bill will help efforts to control soil erosion in the Great Lakes basin, and support research on a deadly fish virus in the lakes, among other priorities.

As a member of the Farm Bill Conference Committee and Senate Agriculture Committee, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) played a leading role in crafting the Food, Conservation and Energy Act, also known as the Farm Bill, which was approved by Congress this month. Sen. Stabenow was instrumental in reauthorizing the only Great Lakes-specific Farm Bill program, the Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion and Sediment Control, and adding language linking the program to the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy (GLRC) to restore and protect the Great Lakes. The GLRC strategy was adapted in 2005 by a partnership of federal, state, municipal and tribal interests following a year-long collaboration.

Beyond the Great Lakes-specific provisions of the Farm Bill, many national conservation measures included in the bill will benefit the Great Lakes region. The bill included increased funding and policy improvements for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program to reward farmers for land and water conservation practices. It also boosted funding for Wetland Reserve and Grassland Reserve programs to protect water resources and expand wildlife habitat.

Created by the legislation were both a new conservation loan program to leverage additional funding for agriculture conservation and a new cooperative conservation program to more effectively address natural resource concerns.

“We are pleased that the 2008 Farm Bill includes important provisions to protect and restore the Great Lakes. We congratulate Sen. Stabenow and other members of the Great Lakes Congressional Delegation for their leadership and dedication to protecting the Great Lakes,” said Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry, chair of the Great Lakes Commission. “This is one piece of federal legislation that acknowledges the value of the Great Lakes and the wisdom of investing in their protection.”

The Commission also commends Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn., 7th District), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, for his leadership in guiding the bill through the legislative process.

The Great Lakes Basin Program – which gained renewed support in the Farm Bill – is administered by the Great Lakes Commission, with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Basin Program supports improved erosion and sediment control and sound land use practices through demonstration grants, technical assistance and information/education projects. Grant recipients include conservation districts and other non federal units of government, nonprofit organizations and academic institutions in all eight states of the Great Lakes basin. Over the past 17 years, the Basin Program has supported nearly 400 projects and invested almost $12 million in water quality improvement efforts. These projects have prevented an estimated 250,000 tons of sediment and 900,000 pounds of phosphorus from entering the Great Lakes and tributaries. Sediment pollution covers spawning beds, suffocates aquatic vegetation habitat, and increases the cost of treating potable water and maintaining drainage infrastructure. Phosphorus pollution can lead to excess growth of plants and algae and rob lakes and rivers of oxygen.

Another provision of the Farm Bill authorizes research grants for the study of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), a lethal fish virus that has been blamed for several large-scale fish die-offs in the Great Lakes since 2005.

The Great Lakes Commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. John Cherry (Mich.), is a nonpartisan, binational compact agency established under state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of governors' appointees, state legislators, and agency officials from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Qu├ębec was established through the signing of a " Declaration of Partnership." The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.